Full Color original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Mark Haven Britt
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $15.99 US
This graphic novel appears to be creator Xeric grant recipient Mark Haven Britt’s first published comics project, and on that level alone, it’s impressive. Of course, Britt isn’t entirely a newcomer to the comics industry; he’s the director of marketing for Image Comics. One might think that position have him a leg up on other creators, that his bosses at the comics publishing company did him a solid and published his work regardless of quality. I think one would be wrong in that assumption, though, because Full Color is a surprisingly engrossing, suspenseful and odd piece of fiction. Full Color is part crime novel, part 20s, slice-of-life storytelling a la Singles or Reality Bites. At first, the reader really doesn’t know what to make of Britt’s unusual plot and characters, but the further one delves into this urban drama, the more interesting it gets. The plotting is solid, but what really draws one in is the characterization. The more grounded moments of the story boast dialogue that strikes one as wholly genuine. The convincing and entertaining tone of the script is a testament to the skill of this rookie creator. Like the story, I wasn’t quite taken with the art at first, but the creator’s inventive gritty style and strong eye for anatomy eventually won me over.
Boom is an angry woman. Her girlfriend has just left her because Boom’s infectious, destructive anger over her job spoils any chance she has to be happy. Boom resolves to deal with that anger at any cost, giving herself a single day to make herself happy. She’s quit her job, and now she’s got a plan for her cheap, manipulative ex-boss. Along the way, Boom seeks out and encounters old friends, who all have their own baggage. Perpetual drug fiend and loser David’s on the run from a rather nasty drug dealer, and rich kid Ned’s being led astray by a beautiful woman with her own agenda. And elsewhere, Lilly, a scarred but ultimately beautiful soul for whom all the other friends feel responsible, senses that something is wrong in Boom’s world and tries to track her down.
Britt’s artwork definitely stands out as unusual, and in some respects that’s a good thing and in others it’s a minor liability. The cover fails to capture the edgier, grounded nature of the story and characters, though it does offer a vague, symbolic representation of the story. For the most part, the artist’s work reminds me of a cross between the styles of Paul (Talent) Azaceta and Michael (Alias) Gaydos. His incorporation of realistic cityscapes and wildly sketchy and inky visuals is also reminiscent of Brian Wood’s earlier work, such as Channel Zero. Britt has a good eye for anatomy, and the character designs are distinct but not in any extreme way. There are surreal moments when the characters daydream that foreshadow a dark ending, but they’re also difficult to discern visually and interfere with the flow of the story.
The lettering, for the most part, is far too clean and crisp for the tone of the story. It brought a cold, distant quality into the mix that conflicted with the characterization-based approach to storytelling. What I did enjoy, though, was the unusual, sweeping and angular qualities of the word balloons. They add an additional hip, urban sense of design to the book.
The significance of the book’s title escapes me. I’m not sure if it’s a play on words that I’m missing for some reason or not, or if the author is trying to give his black-and-white graphic novel an ironic name. Perhaps he’s saying that his cast of characters covers a wide spectrum of personalities; I don’t know. I do know that it doesn’t strike me as the most marketable title for a book, graphic novel or otherwise.
The plot hinges on several coincidences in order for the tension to mount, but it works all the same thanks to Boom’s reminiscences of her friends from a happier time and Lilly’s troubling dreams. There’s a sense that destiny is guiding these characters toward the ultimately tragic climax, and that makes the reliance on happenstance encounters far more palatable. Britt balances the darker elements with more universal scenes that expose the foibles of everyday life and explore the nature of various different kinds of friendships.
Driving the book forward are two plotlines that are rather extreme in nature; nevertheless, those plotlines are fascinating. But even more engrossing are the characters and how easy it is to relate to them. Boom’s actions in this story may be unimaginable to the reader, but her frustrations are ones we’ve all experienced at one time or another. Lilly’s a gentle soul, a thoroughly likeable person who encourages her friends and thinks of others before herself. The scene in which she sees a friend off as he embarks on a dream career rings true, especially the punchline at the end of the scene. The group of friends that serve as the cast of characters here boasts a certain archetypical lineup. Everyone’s circle of friends has similar personalities. We have friends who are pillars of strength, who are takers and who are nurturers. We have friends who lead, who follow and who leech. Full Color is simply the final story for one such group of friends. 8/10