Published Apr 01, 2005Lamenting the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and need something new to fill the void? Try Dead @ 17, a comic filled with demons and resurrected girls that packs a wallop, even without Joss Whedon and the Scooby gang.
"I get the Buffy thing a lot, and frankly, it's very frustrating," fumes creator Josh Howard. "I've never seen, read, or know anything about it. The themes of destiny and the mentor relationship are prevalent in hundreds of other stories, like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix stories going all the way back through time."
Despite that, there are a few similarities between Howard's creation and the vampire-slaying teen. But what sets Howard's comic apart from other demon-fighting chick comics is that it's well written and beautifully drawn. The first volume, simply titled Dead @ 17, was written, drawn and coloured in just two and a half months. Not that it looks hastily done; the comics are collected in slim graphic novels that feature simple but startling covers.
The book seems to have a deeper meaning than just some girl who dies and gets a chance to rid the world of evil. The main character, Nara, has a definite sense of destiny and duty; although she struggles against it, in the end she does what has to be done to ensure the safety of humanity. That kind of depth comes from a personal struggle, one that Howard has already dealt with.
"I've always connected with the ideas of destiny and purpose. Why am I here? What is my task?' My own struggle to become an artist/writer has been full of personal hardships. Around the time I was conceiving the idea of Dead @ 17, I was going though a messy divorce that left me homeless and feeling very much alone. I was left having to rebuild my life from nothing while still very determined to break into the industry and make a name for myself. I'm sure some of that seeped into the story."
Indeed it has. When Nara finally faces the responsibility thrust upon her by an awesome power, her friends push her away. For Nara, it's about choosing to live separate from those she loves in order to protect them from her enemies. Seeing her parents and not being able to speak with them for fear their lives might be jeopardised is one of the things that propels Nara toward her ultimate goal.
And what is her ultimate goal? "I don't want to say too much because I don't want to spoil the ending," says Howard. "In a nutshell, Nara's duty is to stand against the forces of evil, no matter the cost. But that is only part of it. The life she has led and the decisions she has made so far will lead her to make another choice that will have some pretty major repercussions. Check out Dead @ 17: Revolution #4 to learn just what that choice will be."
Writing this kind of a comic makes the temptation to go overboard on the cheese factor almost irresistible. Howard manages to not only introduce characters that are different enough from each other to warrant interest, he also makes the storyline simple without too much overlapping of themes. The character development is done in a way that makes the whole story that much more believable in a comic book sense anyway.
There is always a tendency to write yourself into a story, and Howard is no exception. "The characters of Nara, Hazy, and Raddemer are in part based on people I know or have known not specifically, but more of an amalgamation. There is probably some part of me in all the characters," says Howard.
And rightfully so. Using a painful experience to propel yourself forward and achieve your goals is one of the main themes of the book. It's also something that Howard has done for himself, and in doing so has shown a remarkable sense of tenacity and dedication to his work.
Alive and Well @ 17
At the age of just 17, David Trumble won the Dan Hemingway Prize, an award for creativity at the Cherwell School in Oxford, England, for his 200-page graphic novel Climate. A self-described response to It's A Wonderful Life, Trumble acknowledges that although the movie isn't associated with film noir, from which he draws his greatest influence, it does have an element of bleakness to it. In Climate, it's embodied by Robert Pui, a living ghost who just wants it all to end. The other characters he comes into contact with are split between trying to kill him and trying to help him. In the end, none of it matters.
Trumble opted to write and draw Climate without colour. Black and white comics say something completely different than their coloured kin. By discarding colour, the artist has to use the contrast to tell the story, and without colour to mask any graphic mistakes, the story becomes much more than an exchange between characters to fulfil story criteria. This is particularity true with Climate; as a reader you have to pay attention to the details of the characters and scenery, otherwise the story comes across as a big soupy mess. Little details give away some of his influences too. For example, one of the billboards in the background is Trumble's nod to Mike Mignola's famous creation, Hellboy.
As well as touting It's A Wonderful Life as inspiration, Trumble also refers to the classic movie The Great Escape throughout. His characters reflect on the movie constantly, each adding their own opinions of the real story as they go along on their journey. When one of them decides to kill himself, he's told that he's like Steve McQueen, The Great Escape's last man standing. And in the end, he is the only one who survives, despite numerous attempts on his life. Such layered themes in a graphic novel are seldom seen in mature authors, and David Trumble has surely secured his place among them with this story.