Monday, February 18, 2013

Family Bones Review

Thanks to the generosity of Shawn Granger and the Webcomic Beacon team, I've got my hands on the two Family Bones collections from King Tractor Press. They reprint the 2006 comic of the same name.

The basic story is that a teenager named Sean is taken to his grandparents' farm to help out over the summer. The specific reason isn't cited, but it seems to be largely a disciplinary measure. Once on the farm, Sean's very roughly put to work doing very laborious chores like clearing rocks out of a field. The grandfather is a violent, codgerly ass of a man, equally likely to curse as to beat the crap out of you. Both of which he does to Sean repeatedly. The grandmother, while not violent, tacitly approves of her husband. Sean does find some refuge in the Wendy, a local farmgirl who's fed up with the shithole that she's grown up in. There's also an assortment of other locals and homeless people who flit in and out of the story, acting every bit the hicks that they possibly can. The grandfather's violent streak continues on unchecked and Sean eventually finds the bodies of several men he had killed. Though the sheriff is friends with the grandparents and doesn't believe Sean's story, he does search their property mostly to relieve the boredom, only to discover a large collection of bodies.

Fortunately, I was never personally sent out to a farm or anything remotely like this, and I never had any relatives this mean-spirited. So it's hard for me to relate at that level. Additionally, Granger makes a point of making every adult character completely unlikeable; there just doesn't seem to be anything redeeming about any of them. The tricky part Granger undertakes is making Sean pretty unlikeable at the start as well. Wendy is pleasant enough, but a little two-dimensional -- not a real complaint as she's just a side character, really -- so there's the danger of making the entire book filled with people the reader doesn't like. Sean's character journey does seem to be one of becoming a better person, but the ending is left a bit ambiguous in terms of Sean's fate. Presumably, he goes back to living with his parents, but whether he carries the same antagonism towards them that he had at the outside or harbors even more resentment for their having put him through this is unresolved.

The art was a bit of a mixed bag. Nearly every chapter is tackled by a different artist. The storytelling works surprisingly well despite the change of artists with the exception of how grandpa is depicted. Obviously, different artists have different styles and I didn't have any problem with that, but the grandfather's broad appearance changed a bit from artist to artist, sometimes making me wonder if it was a different character altogether. In some parts, he's thin; in others, he's overweight; sometimes he's frail, sometimes he's muscular. Coupled with some dramatic mood swings, he became a hard character to keep track of even when he was so prominent to the story. None of the iterations were drawn poorly, just inconsistently. But strangely, that was pretty well limited to the grandfather and not Sean or Wendy or the other characters.

Overall, it wasn't a bad story. Granger wanted to make sure readers didn't like the grandparent characters and I really did come to loathe them as horrible people. I think I would've liked to have seen my namesake be a little more likeable and/or relatable at the start. I've also got a copy of Granger's later work, Innocent, which I'm still game to try. From what I gather, it's got a few more likeable characters at the outset, so I'm curious to see if that makes me perhaps a tad less critical.

No comments: