Committed: A Second Look at “Local”
Local should have been a book that really spoke to me, personally. Like Megan, the central character we follow in Local, I spent my late teens and early twenties traveling around a fair amount, trying to find that place that would feel like “home” to me. I had the same kind of jobs that Megan had, bar tending, retail work, secretarial stuff – job that you could find and leave relatively easily. If a relationship didn’t work out, it was easier to move country than deal with the fallout of becoming friends and working things out. Like Megan, it took me a while to realize that staying in one place didn’t have to make me feel trapped, and in fact it could be deeply empowering to have a stable home base.
With all of that in mind, I expected to love Local immediately. Maybe that’s why I didn’t… at first.
Yesterday I went to the library, not intending to pick up Local, but to see if they had a book that my friend recommended about the health benefits of specific sleep patterns (not that I have trouble sleeping, but as a huge advocate of sleeping loads, it sounds interesting.) They didn’t have it, so I reserved it to pick up next time I’m there (which I have to say, is an incredibly useful service; You reserve a book from any library in San Francisco, then when it comes in, they send it to your local library and email you to come get it. Amazing, right?!) Anyway, while I was there I picked up the big compendium of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly‘s Local, just to take a second look at it.
Sometime when it was coming out I read the individual issues, but there’s something deeply satisfying about reading a nice big, fat compilation all at once. More to the point, since Wood’s much lauded New York Four (and the following New York Five), I’d been talking to a friend about Wood’s depiction of women. At the time the main character of Local – Megan – bothered me. I bemoaned her choices, how annoyingly irresponsible and inconsiderate she is in her travels.
When traveling and moving to new places, it makes sense to be polite and respectful to new people if only because meeting again is so likely. In other words, having friends all over the world is a hell of a lot more useful than leaving a slew of enemies in your wake. Doing a little more cleaning or shopping is essential when I’m relying on the kindness of my host for a place to stay, so the idea of invading their space in any way, or flaunting their house rules, is completely out of the question. While bemoaning Megan’s reprehensible behavior, my friend pointed out that the pertinent aspect of the story was her evolution. I dismissed this concept offhandedly, but resolved to take a second look at Megan’s story.
In the wider scope of comic books there aren’t that many stories which revolve entirely around women, so was excited that Wood was writing about women, no matter how I felt about their personality.
It was strange, but re-reading Local, I remembered every story, every issue, except for the last one. This is particularly galling as it is the heart of the story, the pivotal moment when Megan owns her past and her future. Remembering the people that have meant something too her and acknowledging their importance to her, she is shown in a more adult and reflective manner than at any other time. To have forgotten this final chapter of the story is such a massive oversight and it explains why I was so unaware of Megan’s evolution as a character. With this complete picture of her journey, I can appreciate the changes in her character that much more. While I still feel that she has a weak character and at times behaves in an extremely dishonorable way, I begin to understand that this is an intentional move from the author and we are witness to her very private journey, growing into a stronger character. I appreciate the opportunity to observe the private journey of someone growing a metaphorical backbone.
This new perspective is definitely due in part to my taking the time to re-read this book, and that in itself lends a lot to the fact that Brian Wood is such a genuinely friendly person to meet at conventions. I couldn’t accept that this man of good intention would spend so much time writing about an irredeemably pointless woman, and as it turns out, he did not. Though Megan begins as a pointless, thoughtless girl, she grows into a young woman, gradually learning to be stronger, wiser and more considerate.
Whether I like the main character or not isn’t actually the issue, but whether I can relate to her. As a independent, nomadic female character, I had expected to empathize with her more. Instead I found myself disapproving of her actions like some kind of maternal figure, feeling as if her behavior was “letting the side down”, i.e. making me look bad as a fellow female traveler. Then I got to the last issue, where Megan looks back, and like her I saw the progress she had made.
Most poignantly, the scenes of her strange dreams, initially filled with fears for her brother, and later with questions from he ex boyfriends. If you move around a lot, it feels easy to leave people, almost easier to miss them than it is to put the effort into building long term, intimate relationships. I’m not sure when it happened for me, or if it was a positive move, but there was a point in my life when I realized that I could make changes in my life without leaving and that, in fact, it was more rewarding than leaving. Seeing Megan come to this point through the pivotal experience of her mother’s death was touching. I appreciated the writer and artist’s depiction of this gradual awakening of Megan and it brought the whole series to a higher level. I’m grateful that I took the time to reread this series.