Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Graphic Novel Review: The Nobody

The Nobody
by Jeff Lemire
Fiction, Graphic Novel

In 1994, a mysterious stranger arrives in the small fishing town of Large Mouth. Wrapped in bandages from head to toe, eyes hidden behind a pair of dark goggles, John Griffen takes a room in the local motel. In typical small town fashion, he immediately becomes the center of gossip and speculation. Vickie, teenaged daughter of the local cafĂ© owner, gives in to her curiosity, and ends up secretly befriending Griffen. But the suspicions of the townsfolk soon start to encroach on Griffen’s hoped-for privacy, even as his own past comes back to haunt him.

Between this book, Tales from the Farm, and his as-yet-uncollected monthly comic, Sweet Tooth, I am becoming a huge fan of Jeff Lemire. It’s not so much the stories he tells, as the way he tells them. The notion, presented in The Nobody, that small-town residents can be narrow-minded, judgmental, and not very welcoming to outsiders, is hardly groundbreaking. The twist—taking its inspiration from H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man--makes it a little more intriguing. But it’s Lemire’s deft sense of place and character that really make his work special.

One of the often-stated cardinal rules of fiction is to show, not tell. The Nobody gives its readers all the information they need to understand the story and its characters, but doesn’t overexplain anything. The art and dialogue give us all the pieces we need, but doesn’t spoon-feed it to us. It’s more about the emotions and reactions of the characters than the details.

The town of Large Mouth feels well-constructed and real. We get to know its residents through brief glimpses and small moments. Secrets and information come out in a gradual, natural pace, not in shocking “grand reveals.” The art creates a real sense of place, and distinctive, individual characters, without being stiff or photorealistic.

I highly recommend The Nobody, and definitely plan on reading Jeff Lemire’s other works in the coming weeks.

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