Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: Friends With Boys

I've been holding off reading Friends With Boys mostly because of laziness.  Well, I have to get to it because the comic has gone to print on the 6th of March, so it won't be available as a pure webcomic after that date.  At the time of this writing, it's the 2nd of March, so I can read the whole thing.  After the 6th, you'll only get the first 16 or so pages and will have to buy the comic to read the rest.  There's only one problem with that:  Those 16 pages lie about what the comic is about.  Mostly.

Lie may be to strong a word.  It sets up two plots that seem to be the plot of the comic.  It seems to be a high school comic (of which there are so many the stars weep at their numbers) at first, then introduces a supernatural/mystery story at the end of those first 16 pages.  By the time the 206 page run is complete, neither of these plots are fully resolved, and what resolution they are given is very limited.  No the real plot of the story is something different, but before I get to that, let's talk about the rest of the comic.

The art is good.  Very good black and white, in fact, and definitely some of the best work Faith Erin Hicks has done and very much in her style.  Characters are distinctive, easy to identify, even if I did forget the names of the twins (for story reasons, however, you CAN tell them apart).  The backgrounds, especially the setting scenes featuring buildings and locations.  I really liked the school maps that show up, as they are both show off various scenes of high school life, while also showing hand drawn circles and marks that give some insight into Maggie's character.

Speaking of characters, I thought they were really well done.   There's a sense of realism with each one that is hard to get in a lot of comics.  They have insecurities, hobbies, habits and personalties.  Siblings act like siblings, friends like friends, high school jerks act like high school jerks.  That said, the jerks have reasons for being jerks (insecurities), and the siblings and family act like they do because of who they are and who they want to be.  In a sense, they're growing up, and in the process they make mistakes, decisions they regret and they look for some sense of absolution for them.

Which brings me back to the story.  As I said, those first 16 pages lie about what the comic is about.  The supernatural thing is essential to the story, but not the center of it.  High school is essential to the events as they play out, but not the center of it.  If anything, the story is rather mundane, which fits the place I am in my mind right now.  Simple incidents are played out that add up, but don't actual do much in the long run anyway.  There's not much of a grand confrontation at the end, mostly because there isn't a villain.  Even the "bully" type character isn't so much a bully in the classic sense.  He's a jerk, yes, but no more so than other people I've known.  That's kind of a relief, as he could easily be turned into one by a lesser story teller.

So what is the story about then?  Well, Faith has actually posted what SHE thinks it's about, and being the author of the story, I can't and won't disagree with her.  That said, I think it's also about family and how they change as we get older.  The relationships remain "the same" but change as time goes on.  That's why I say those early pages lie because you only get the briefest hint that the family isn't quite what it was before and that Maggie is only just starting to notice how different everything has become.  By the end, a new dynamic and understanding is formed and, well, everything is okay.

Now then, is the comic worth paying for?  For me, it would be if I had any extra cash (I am unemployed and poor).  Of course, I'm also a big fan of Faith's work, so I might be a touch biased.  Still, this is a good book and I'd love to have a copy on a shelf, and I don't really collect comics.  Is it worth it for anyone else?  That's harder for me to say.  This isn't a grand adventure or mystery or even a high school drama, so if you're looking for that, go elsewhere.  If you're looking for something smaller, more familiar, and more mundane, it might be worth it.  At the very least read the first 16 pages and see if the tone and pacing appeal to you, just keep in mind that the story presented in those 16 pages isn't the real story, but the real one is just a bit better.

Until next time kiddie.

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