In the lead-up to Young Liars ending on September 2 with issue 18, I will be rereading the 17 issues already out and discussing them at a rate of one issue per day. I haven't reread any of these comics since they came out, so it should be fun. Spoilers, of course. Let's dance!
Young Liars #16, "In Our Town/When the Whore Came," by David Lapham received five stars when I reviewed it for CBR and is a strong contender for my favourite issue of the series. If I were to actually go by plot and character stuff, I think issue ten would be my favourite. Or, if I was going to choose an issue for balls out insanity, it would be issue seven. But, if we're talking about technique and just appealing to me on a personal level, issue 16 can't be matched. I'll let my CBR review fill you in on why:
Music has played a big part in Young Liars to date, with the first year of the book featuring cover images approximately the dimensions of album covers. Or, the second story arc being bookended by “The Spiders from Mars” parts 1 and 2 like Neil Young sometimes does on his albums. Or, the two song recommendations/soundtrack that each issue has at the beginning. After all, the logo is a guitar with a gun at the end of it. The title of this issue is “In Our Town/When the Whore Came,” pointing to its nature as a double-song ala “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” by the Guess Who. Comics as music.
Ronald is obsessed with the idea of yin and yang, so much so that he named his sandwich shop that —- and his favorite sandwich, as well. The issue and the events that occur subscribe to this duality, this symmetry. Events that occur in the first half reoccur in an altered form in the second half.
The construction of the issue as a two-part song is reflected in the way that Lapham tells the story. The first half of the issue is told all in the same page layout: three stacked panels. There is no variation, aside from the first page where the usual placement of the title precludes using that layout (although the title almost acts as a middle panel). Not only that, but there is no dialogue in these panels, just Ronald’s narration combined with various images that Lapham chooses carefully, often coming back to images of duality.
Then, in the middle of the issue, he changes it up, shifting to a two-by-four layout in its most basic form, but willing to combine the areas of those panels on some page layouts. What’s particularly clever is that he doesn’t change it right away, he has a slight overlap between the two halves as the ‘song’ switches from one melody/beat to another, punctuated with a full-page shot of Lorelei in her car, arriving in two, the event that separates the two halves of this story. Lapham executes this structure and changeover with skill and precision.
Beyond the construction of pages, Lapham’s art is very clean this issue as, for the first half, he focuses on creating tableaux images that convey a lot of information and relate to the text. The second half of the issue shifts to more character-based compositions with an emphasis on body language, broken up by the odd panel reminiscent of the first half of the issue.
I'm not sure that I have a whole lot to add to that, because I nailed my thoughts and feelings on this issue when I wrote that review. Actually, it's one of my favourite CBR reviews that I've written. I'm not sure if I would have gotten the double-song structure of this issue without the title pointing that way, but, man, David Lapham read my fucking mind when he decided to this issue.
Some of you may know that I'm a writer of fiction (I have a Master's in English Language and Literature with a specialisation in creative writing) and one of my obsessions since sometime in late high school has been the idea of capturing what music does in prose and comics. Poetry can do it rather easily since a lot of songs are just poetry (of a sort -- and ranging in quality) set to music with a slightly different structure than most poems. But, trying to accomplish it in prose and comics? That's what I'm talking about!
And the double-song, best showcased in "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature," has been my white whale of sorts. I've tried to capture that structure and feel numerous times -- and have done alright sometimes. I can think of at least one comic script and one one-act play where I used that structure whatever effect. The structure is simple: one song, change over to another song, the other song, and then bring it all together by combining the two at the end.
AND THAT'S WHAT DAVID LAPHAM DOES HERE!
I know that this doesn't make up for the not-as-good-as-the-rest-of-the-series plot and character work, but, for me, it just bowls me over every time I read it. I read this issue twice the day that I got it, something I never do. Hell, I have comics that I've never read twice and have owned for years. Why do you think I began my reread reviews series of posts? An excuse to reread those books! But, not this issue. Coming into this reread of Young Liars, this is the only issue that I'd read more than once.
But, I'm also a style/technique/structure mark. I love Ulysses for how Joyce structures and writes it. The "Oxen of the Sun" episode is the best-written piece of writing in English from a purely technical standpoint... and it's utter rubbish to read. It's an example of why you don't take things too far... but it's absolutely brilliant. In my own writing, I love large structures and stylistic changes, and Lapham gives us that in Young Liars. The two "Spiders from Mars" issues were an example of that and so is "In Our Town/When the Whore Came" (which was billed as "In Our Town/The Day the Whore Came" at the end of last issue...).
The plot centres of Ronald, who we'll remember as the manager of Danny's department at the Brown Bag store in Austin back in the second issue. Except, here, he's living in Freedom, Arizona his entire life... and Freedom turned into Browning. Where he's now a manager at the local Brown Bag. Everything changes when Loreli comes to town... daughter of the owners of the Brown Bag stores and looking very much like Sadie -- her hair colour and everything. It's not anything too special, but the way that it's told... I love it.
Those plot points suggest that Browning isn't a proper place. It's a creation of Danny's, I think... a remix of his life in a small town. Though, Loreli being the owner's daughter explains why the two of them get away with so much stealing... just as Joanie does when she returns in the guise of Loreli.
Something I do like: Ronald and his family are punished for lying. Who else in this book ever really is? Heh.
And, yes, I've been listening to "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature" on repeat while writing this post.
See you tomorrow for the conclusion of this series of posts.