Shenanigans original graphic novel
Writer: Ian Shaughnessy
Artist/Cover artist: Mike Holmes
Editor: James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $14.95 US
Oni Press boasts a diverse array of material among its various releases over the years, but when I think of Oni, I think of strong, grounded, slice-of-life storytelling. The publisher has offered a great lineup of original graphic novels over the years as well, from Lost at Sea to 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. Oni Press rarely disappoints, so that’s why I was so excited to see this latest graphic-novel release cross my desk (despite its somewhat goofy name). As I delved into the book, I was surprised by the first scene, as it focuses on a rather off-putting character. Still, I continued on, eager to see what this 20-something corner of St. Louis had in store. I’ll give former Oni intern Ian Shaughnessy credit for one thing… he’s definitely tapped into some believable characters and the kind of relationship I’ve seen others experience. But in the end, I found I really didn’t like these characters all that much, and his incorporation of a sitcom-esque plot twist in the middle of the book interfered with the character dynamics rather than contributed to them. The art serves the tone of the script quite well, and I’d be interested in seeing more work from industry newcomer Mike Holmes. Ultimately, Shenanigans isn’t a bad graphic novel, just a slightly flawed foray into the slice-of-life genre and not nearly as strong as other Oni fare.
After a recent breakup with his latest girlfriend (and provider of shelter), Holden happens to encounter a beautiful but down-on-her-luck waitress named Casey. The pair share a twisted sense of humor and hit it off immediately, romance nipping at their heels. Holden quickly moves in with Casey and her roommate. Inspired by a remark Holden made one evening, she’s inspired to establish her own business as a private math tutor for her fellow college students. The success of her venture causes their lives to change, as they spend less and less time together. Holden’s jealousy and usual self-centered relationship patterns emerge, and the couple’s connection seems destined for doom. Holden’s answer to their problems is to pose as a new client, but his plan seems to provide him with as many headaches has he had before.
Holmes’s work strikes the right chord for this story. For the most part, the characters are rather goofy, and Holmes takes a slightly cartoony approach to design and depiction. He also handles the occasional bits of physical comedy adeptly. He has a strong eye for anatomy and movement, which make his figures all the more convincing. His style here reminds me a bit of Terry (Strangers in Paradise) Moore’s, Tim (The Copybook Tales) Levins’s and Dean (Billy Dogma) Haspiel’s (to a lesser extent). My only real qualm with the art is a stylistic choice he often makes, especially when it comes to his portrayal of Holden. The empty, Little Orphan Annie eyes didn’t sit well with me. I found them distracting, and they’d take me out of the story to a small degree. It’s a minor quibble, but it was an irksome element that marred what I saw as an otherwise flawless performance.
The book derives its title from the gimmick of having Holden adopt another identity in order to restore his relationship with Casey. It’s a ridiculous concept, the sort of fodder for a bad episode of Three’s Company. That plot element brings a quality to the book that reminiscent of Mrs. Doubtfire… and not in a good way. As a reader, I just couldn’t accept that a woman as bright as Casey wouldn’t recognize her own boyfriend, even if he was sporting a fake goatee and glasses. I suppose it serves as a metaphor for the fact that these two people really don’t know one another all that well in the first place, but it made both main characters seem like incredible morons… one for having tried it and the other for falling for it.
The story’s pacing seems a bit off as well. One supporting character really doesn’t play that integral a role in the story, and he’s emphasized far too much in his introduction early on in the story. it also takes a long while for the core premise — Holden’s double identity — to come around. The happy ending didn’t ring true either. The strongest part of the story was the breakup, as it felt genuine and made a lot of sense, and that strength is quickly replaced by what one could argue is a corny conclusion.
Despite my disdain for the characters and what I saw as their ultimately empty relationship, I have to admit that a great deal of the character-oriented stuff really rang true. I’ve met people like Holden; I know women like Casey. Both seem incapable of facing the prospect of single life; each grabs onto the first opportunity for a relationship that comes along after the last one dissolves. Holden doesn’t care about Casey; he just wants to be with someone. He does nothing to change his usual patterns. And Casey’s attachment to Holden never really makes sense. Like him, she wants someone to fill a void. She has a dream in her head of the perfect relationship, and she’s more than willing to lie to herself that she’s found it. It’s the strength of these characterizations that redeem Shenanigans to a certain degree, allowing it to hold the reader’s interest. 6/10