The Road to God Knows… original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Von Allan
Publisher: Von Allan Studio
When it comes to the slice-of-life genre in comics, there’s a rich vein of storytelling strength to be found in independent and self-published works. Often, writers and artists starting out in the medium wisely stick with what they know rather than delve into fantasy or action stories. Von Allan is one such creator, who offers up a period piece about an awkward teenage girl who’s lost in her own life. Marie’s struggle to find herself or any happiness in difficult and painful circumstances is normally the kind of story I love to see from indy creators, but the plotting here is incredibly slow. Furthermore, the conflicts don’t seem to go anywhere.
There’s certainly a heartfelt tone to the writing, and as a Canadian, it was fun to see cultural elements unique to the Great White North incorporated into the script. Ultimately, though, I think the creator would have benefitted from some strong editing and guidance. Furthermore, while it’s easy to see that Von Allan has strived to establish a realistic look in the artwork, he needs to work on perspective and anatomy.
Marie’s not a terribly happy girl. Other girls at her high school in Ottawa, Ontario, pick on her all the time because she’s shy and awkward, and life at home is no walk in the park. Her mother is struggling with mental illness, and she’s just returned home after a stay in a psychiatric hospital. Her father, who lives in another part of the city as a result of a divorce, isn’t much consolation. Marie’s only refuges from the storms in her life are her love of professional wrestling and her friendship with Kelly, another girl in the neighborhood.
Von Allan certain brings an emotive, expressive look to his characters’ faces, and that’s vital, since this story is all about emotion. Unfortunately, the look of his characters isn’t always convincing. Marie’s age is never conveyed effectively. Physically, Marie looks like an adult in a teen’s clothing. I did appreciate how the artist establishes a strong resemblance between mother and daughter, but other character designs don’t quite work. Marie’s father and her teacher are far too similar in appearance, for example.
Perhaps the most distracting aspect of the art is Allan’s approach to the backgrounds. Every room in which Marie finds herself seems to be cavernous. Marie’s home seems like it should be a tiny apartment, given the limited means of her family. Instead, the family room is practically unending, and Marie’s classroom sometimes looks as though it could accommodate the crowd at a movie panel at Comic Con International San Diego. It could be purposeful, part of Allan’s effort to demonstrate how isolated Marie feels, but it doesn’t quite work. Dropping backgrounds altogether seems to be a more effective method in this book.
The writer beats around the bush when it comes to the central conflict in the book — Marie’s confusion and sadness over her mother’s state of mind. It’s clear mental illness is at the centre of the problem, but Allan avoids naming the specific illness and the circumstances of Marie’s mom’s absence from the home just before the book begins. It seems through he’s trying to enhance dramatic tension, but that effort fizzles. Other elements that I found to be odd storytelling choices were Marie’s teacher’s arrogance and impatience with her despite her circumstances the brief reference to the sexual connection to Marie’s escapism into the world of pro wrestling.
One thing was abundantly clear from the chapter breaks that Allan peppers throughout the book: we have similar taste in music. There are a lot of references to the lyrics of traditional and folk music, and those, along with the Canadian culture references, brought a smile to my face. I also appreciated that this was an intensely personal story for the creator. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t tapping into personal experiences to craft Marie and her life. Nevertheless, the story didn’t quite work for me. It doesn’t really go anywhere. No conflict is resolved. It ends with Marie’s cathartic escape into a live wrestling show, but there’s no sense that she’s grown at all or been defeated by the sadder events she must endure. In other words… nothing happens. Perhaps that’s reflective of real life, but it doesn’t exactly make for a compelling story. While I can appreciate that Marie feels lost, that doesn’t mean the plotting should feel the same way. 4/10
For more information about this book and its creator, visit the graphic novel website.
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