Posted by Don MacPherson on June 16th, 2008
Burnout original graphic novel
Writer: Rebecca Donner
Arist/Cover artist: Inaki Miranda
Gray tones: Eva de la Cruz
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Minx imprint
Price: $9.99 US/$11.99 CAN
Whenever a new Minx graphic novel hits the stand, I take a look. I’ve rarely been disappointed by the imprint’s books, and there’s no denying that one of its advantages is how it exposes new or lesser-known voices in comics to readers. I’ve read nothing of novelist Rebecca Donner’s work before, but I enjoyed the quiet tone, her sullen characters and slightly off-the-wall premise. On the surface, this seems to be a teenage love story set against the backdrop of an environmental message, but on closer inspection, Donner boils the socio-economic complexities of the issue down to a simpler, more balanced level. Perhaps my favorite aspect of her plot is that this is a coming-of-age story for more than just the teenage protagonist. Artist Inaki Miranda is the one who makes the most of this North American coming-out party, though. His soft lines and eye for detail really help this unusual story to come to life. His work boasts a nice mix of American, European and Asian influences, which should make for a broad appeal. Burnout definitely stands out as another creative success for the Minx line, but unfortunately, the question remains why such creative successes aren’t translating into stronger sales.
After being abandoned by her husband, a single mother picks up and moves to a small logging town in the Pacific Northwest, and she’s brought her teenage daughter, Danni, along for the ride. When they move into Danni’s mother’s new alcoholic boyfriend, the girl comes face to face with Haskell, her potential stepbrother. Haskell is dark, moody and mysterious, and Danni finds herself drawn to him. When she discovers his secret, she joins him in his mission of ecological mischief. Danni soon finds herself torn, as her heart belongs to Haskell, but her head tells her that his principles are leading them to a dangerous place.
Miranda’s artwork immediately put me in mind of the early work of artists Joshua Middleton and Steve McNiven, namely, their efforts as the first two artists on Crossgen’s Meridian back in 2000 and 2001. His work is also comparable to that of the Luna Brothers (Girls, The Sword). There are also moments when more unusual choices make themselves apparent, and his art is reminiscent of more exaggerated styles such as those of Leandro (The Punisher) Fernandez and Brandon (King City) Graham. Most importantly, Miranda conveys the youth of the main characters quite clearly without making them look like little children. At key moments, he captures the immense scope of the forested backdrop as well.
Honestly, the only aspect of the art with which I could take issue would be his designs for Danni’s teachers, who are crafted to look almost like monsters from manga rather than real people. But that’s rather the point. We’re not meant to see the teachers as people, but as droning machines, interchangeable cogs in a system with clients that don’t believe in it. That Miranda would portray them as almost alien in appearance makes some sense, given that context.
Haskell’s crusade against the forestry industry paints him as a likable character, but as the story progresses, we see he’s cursed with the same impulse-control program and lack of foresight as his father. I’m impressed that Donner delves into both sides of the conflict. She recognizes that harvesting of natural resources can be an economic lifeline for small communities and poor, hardworking people. She dabbles in the ethical pitfalls of extreme conservationist efforts as well. Though I’m far from the west coast, I live a short drive from similar communities, propped up by forestry but struggling in an age when natural-resources sectors grow weaker and weaker.
My favorite moment in the story comes later in the book, and it doesn’t even stem from Danni’s decisions. We finally see her weak-willed, broken mother pick herself up and act like the adult and caregiver she should have been to Danni from the start. Burnout is primarily Danni’s coming-of-age story, but Donner also recognizes that she doesn’t have to grow up all of the way yet. Her mother still has work to do, and it’s when she finally grows up and takes charges that hope finally makes its way into the picture.
I shouldn’t have bought this graphic novel. I enjoyed it, but the market tells me it’s not for me. DC’s Minx imprint is targeted at an untapped female readership — specifically, girls. I’m a stubborn guy, though. I like good comics, and I’m drawn to solid storytelling in the medium. Previous releases in the Minx line have been, for the most part, either solid or quite strong, so the brand has earned my attention. It doesn’t seem as though the marketplace has really done so, though, and at this point, one has to point to the efforts (or lack thereof) to promote the line. While DC has taken some steps to market Minx, it really doesn’t seem as though its initial, low-key approach is working. It’s a shame, because what we have here is a major American publisher releasing creator-owned, slice-of-life books that we only ever saw from indy or small-press publishers in the past. This is the kind of diversity of product some people demanded of bigger comics publishers, and it’s the bigger spotlight that fans sought for black-and-white, non-sci-fi/fantasy comic books. So why isn’t it working? 8/10