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Review time! with Hopeless Savages: Break

by  in Comic News Comment
Review time! with <i>Hopeless Savages: Break</i>

“I’m searching for the latest thing, a break in this routine; I’m talkin’ some new kicks, ones like you ain’t never seen”

I’ve been hearing about the new Hopeless Savages book for so long that it’s almost bizarre that it finally came out. I don’t know the reasons for the delay, but I don’t care, because now it’s out, and we can gaze upon it!

Jen van Meter has written other stuff, but her work-for-hire comics always seem to be lacking the spark of her creator-owned stuff, which isn’t surprising, as that’s true for so many people, but it still makes waiting for something like this more painful. Meredith McClaren, meanwhile, is having herself quite a year, as this is the second terrific graphic novel she’s drawn that has come out in the past few months. Christine Norrie jumps in to draw some flashback pages, Jenny Tran letters it all, and your regular Oni editors James Lucas Jones and Robin Herrera do their thing. The book costs a mere $17.99, which you should be happy to pay!

If you haven’t read any Hopeless Savages comics before this one, you should probably rectify that, but it’s also not a deal-breaker, as van Meter gets us up to speed pretty quickly, checking in on the family early in the book. The main character is Zero, the youngest daughter of Dirk and Nikki, who is dealing with loneliness as a college freshman, but all the characters end up playing important roles in the book.

So just so you know – you can jump right into this without any history with the family or the band.

Zero (her real first name is, unfortunately, Skank) is lonely because her boyfriend, Ginger, attends a different school and her bandmates are, well, presumably doing other things. She doesn’t really like her roommate, either, which does kind of suck (anyone who’s lived with a roommate in college knows how difficult it can be, even though I liked both my roommates). At the beginning of the book, she’s talking to a psychiatrist, which is a good way for van Meter to get us caught up on what’s going on with her and her family. Zero, like most people, is blissfully unaware that anyone else is having any problems, so when she talks about how well-adjusted her family is, we see them in various situations where it’s clear they do have issues – Ginger’s lab partners are deliberately keeping him from communicating with Zero (without his knowledge, of course) because he works harder when he thinks he has problems in his personal life (which is an unbelievably evil thing to do); Nikki is touring and feeling old and out of touch; Zero’s sister Arsenal just had twins, neither of whom seem interested in ever sleeping; Zero’s brother Twitch is also on tour, but it’s soul-crushing (it appears he’s in an orchestra that plays behind an ice skating routine) and the only way he can get out of his contract is by getting arrested, which gives him and his boyfriend a great idea; and her father Dirk gets a call from an old bandmate, Stink, who’s in the hospital.

Hilariously and tragically, many things keep the clan from contacting each other via phone, so when all their lives start to spiral, they can’t contact any of the others. Nikki breaks her leg and can only get in touch with Rat, her other son, who takes care of her. Zero loses her phone before she goes on tour with her band, The Dusted Bunnies, and so she’s out of contact, too. In stories like this, the most annoying thing is usually that characters don’t pick up phones and call each other, but van Meter takes care of that cleverly.

Zero’s band also has a nemesis, another band that they keep running into on the road. This is another interesting aspect of the book, as van Meter does a nice job showing the cutthroat nature of the music business and how being a diva can both benefit and backfire on you. The way the other band thwarts them is petty funny even as it’s cruel, and van Meter does well to show how Zero is growing up when she deals with them. Zero is trying to become an adult, and while van Meter resists making this a true “coming-of-age” story, this is the time in a person’s life when they should start growing up, so the fact that we slowly see Zero reach some kind of emotional maturity is nice and well handled. The way the other members of the family show their mettle is nice, too, as van Meter shows them with different strengths (and weaknesses, to be sure) that allow them to handle some problems beautifully, which makes them stronger as a family.

The strength of the book is how well van Meter develops all the characters – obviously, she’s written about them for years, so she knows them well, but again, there’s no reason you have to read any other stories about this family to dig this one – so that they fit together really well and they all have interesting personalities. Even Zero’s roommate, Krystal, who seems like a pain in the ass, gets a neat story at the end that shows her in a new light. The book’s plots are done well, but it’s the way Zero and the rest of her family act that makes it so good.

Of course, it’s always good to have a good artist, too, and McClaren is great on the book. I think I like her art on Heart in a Box, the other graphic novel she drew that came out this year, a bit more, simply because it’s in color, and her coloring is stunning on it, but her line work here is wonderful. Her Zero is great, a bundle of nervous energy who looks she’s about to take flight at any moment. McClaren gives her bigger eyes than everyone else in the book (although, true to her style, everyone has slightly bigger eyes than “normal” folk), which makes her look more crazed when she’s amped up and more emotional in general. It’s astonishing what McClaren can do with faces with only a few lines – her faces tend to be a bit abstract, but just a dip in someone’s mouth or a slight change in their eyelids speaks volumes. Her line is great for showing the bands performing, as their figures almost flow across the stage. She shows the trials of living on the road for a few weeks, as Zero’s band starts out disheveled (because they’re an indie band, yo!) and gradually becomes more so as their tour becomes more vexing. McClaren doesn’t get too many opportunities to show the surroundings, but she does well with those, too.

Norrie’s flashbacks are fun, as her solid, more “traditional” style is better at showing the old days and contrasts nicely with McClaren’s more exuberant line (not that Norrie’s style isn’t fun, but it feels a bit more “solid” than McClaren’s). It’s a neat way to show the difference between Dirk and Nikki’s salad days and Zero’s attempts to break out on her own. McClaren, I assume, does the lettering for the lyrics when the band plays, and she does a really good job incorporating them into the panels, so that it feels like the music and words are flowing around the musicians.

Hopeless Savages: Break is a very good standalone book, even as it takes van Meter’s characters and moves them forward in their lives. Even if you haven’t read the previous iterations, it’s easy to relate to what the characters are going through, as they navigate life without realizing that you are allowed to rely on others yet still be independent. It’s a funny book (Zero’s slang alone is fun to read), an emotionally powerful book, and a beautifully drawn book. Is there really anything else you need?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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