“The House That Megan Built”
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist/Cover artist: Ryan Kelly
Letters: Douglas E. Sherwood
Editor: James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $2.99 US
It’s been almost three years since this 12-part limited series got underway, and such a sporadic publishing schedule can be frustrating. I suspect that if other Local readers are like me, though, they’ll easily forgive the slow pace given the strength of the storytelling and characterization in each and every issue. The series as a whole has been primarily about Megan McKeenan’s travels all over North America, as she runs from her past and present, desperately looking for a future and for herself. Appropriately, the series ends with a homecoming. This is a fitting, perfect conclusion. The philosophy behind this ending and Megan’s story as a whole is one I agree with wholeheartedly, so Wood’s plot resonates. And Ryan Kelly’s art conveys the universal qualities of Megan’s life and the details that help to convince the reader of the reality of this fiction. It’s disappointing to see this series come to a close, but we fans can rest easy. Wood and Kelly’s new graphic novel — The New York Four from DC’s Minx imprint — is due out next month.
After years moving from town to town and job to job, Megan McKeenan finds herself back home in Vermont. After her mother’s death, the family home lay vacant, used only by local teens in need a place to escape their parents. Now, Megan has taken possession of her inheritance, and after signing the requisite paperwork, she heads home to check it out and clean things up. When she arrives, she discovers the house isn’t entirely empty. The ghosts of Megan’s past — family, lovers and enemies — have arrived along with her, and she’s forced to face them after running for so long.
Perhaps what stands out most about Kelly’s art in this issue and in the series as a whole is the convincing detail he brings to the communities and rooms in which Megan has lived. Just look at the convincing look of the homestead on the cover and the hilltop view of a small Vermont town on the first page. The detail just gets more and more convincing as we proceed through the issue. The kitchen in Megan’s home is full of items carefully placed here and there. It’s detailed, but at the same time, it’s not photorealistic. It is, however, always genuine and real. His depiction of the characters is just as strong, but there’s a simpler approach at play in their faces and expressions. It allows the reader to join the story, to project himself or herself onto one or more of the players.
Wood’s choice to engage his heroine in conversations with the dead and the distant is an unusual choice, as it diverts from the quieter, more grounded approach that has been a hallmark of the series. It’s nevertheless a good choice, because the focus and tone of this issue is a departure from the previous chapters as well. Megan finally returns home to where she feels she belongs, but the reader revisits past locales of the series through her inner conflicts and conversations with absent players. Wood keeps things vague, sometimes suggesting Megan is hallucinating and at others writing the scenes as though they’re symbolic of her regrets and remembrances. It opens the door to more introspection, though, and given the character-driven nature of the story, that only strengthens it further.
The opening scene features Megan giving a passing motorist directions to the highway. It’s fitting that as she’s finally found her home and herself, she’s giving others directions to their final destinations. It’s a strong symbol of how much she’s changed and what the series as a whole has been all about.
We’ve all made mistakes in our lives. I’ve made some doozies. Almost flunked out of university years ago. Took a job in another country with a fly–by-night dot-com company a few years later. Worked there as essentially an illegal alien. But some of the biggest blunders in my life led me to some of the best experiences of my life as well. And they’ve all led me to this point, about to be married to a wonderful woman in just a few months. I’ve always told my parents I don’t regret my missteps and bad decision, because those are probably a bigger part of who I am than my successes.
That’s what Brian Wood’s story is all about. Megan ran from herself for years, and she did some awful things and witnessed the misdeeds of others along the way. Some of it was scarring, some of it was a lie, but it all led her to a final destination. It makes all of the experiences, good and bad, worthwhile. Megan also accepts that while she’s responsible for her own happiness, she can’t shoulder the burden of others’ expectations and needs. It’s an encouraging message overall, and it makes for a great payoff for what has primarily been a dark, sullen character study. 9/10