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The fine folk at Archaia occasionally send me comics, and while I don’t review all of them because, well, I just don’t have the time, I do like to shine the spotlight on some of them. I feel a bit bad that I don’t review more of them, but I guess that’s the way it is! One of the ones they sent me recently is volume one of Hopeless, Maine, which is a webcomic by Tom and Nimue Brown. Obviously, you can read some of this on-line, but I’m not sure if it’s all there these days. This volume is $19.95, and the Browns are working on (done?) volume 2.
Hopeless, Maine is a gothic comic for teenagers, and as such, I’m certainly not the audience for it. I’m not a teenager, and I was never into goth at all. But what the heck, right? The story is set on an island called Hopeless, a place where the sun never shines and it appears that orphaned children proliferate, but no one knows what happened to the parents. So, yeah – it’s bleak. We’re just going to have to deal with it. The Browns begin the story with a witch named Annamarie Nightshade (as per usual with witches these days, she’s a young, fairly attractive witch) who shows up at a house demanding entry. When she goes in, she finds a girl named Salamandra who’s been having a rough time – apparently her mother killed her brother and Annamarie doesn’t think this at all strange. She takes the girl to an orphanage, where it appears she’s somewhat known, and the volume becomes all about Salamandra’s attempts to find her place at the orphanage. She is alienated from all the other kids, and one night when she sneaks out she meets a young girl who seems to want to be friends with her. But, of course, nothing is what it seems, and Salamandra has to make some hard choices over the course of the book. She does meet another friend, Owen, who seems to live at the orphanage even though his father is still alive. Owen has long black hair and broods a lot, because of course he does, but he turns out to be a nice young man who cares about and wants to help Salamandra.
I can’t really recommend Hopeless, Maine, for a few reasons. As I mentioned above, I’m not really the audience for it, but I really don’t think this would be all that interesting to a teenager, either. “Enervating” is the word that comes to mind – the book feels like it’s moving through molasses, as Salamandra just kind of a meanders through her days. She has some magical power, and she uses it effectively at some points, but for the most part, she just seems like she’s sleepwalking. She doesn’t have much of a personality, either, which is too bad. There are some spots in the book where she exhibits a bit of one, and she seems much more interesting than she shows in this volume, but right now, she’s not much of a character. Obviously, the Browns are going for a long-term thing here, and Salamandra obviously has some secrets that they have yet to plumb, but in this volume, at least, she remains a sullen, rather dull character. Because of this, it’s not only hard to care what happens to her, but the situations she finds herself in aren’t that compelling either. This wouldn’t be that bad if the other characters were interesting, but they’re somewhat poorly-defined, as well. Owen is probably the most interesting character in the book, but other than that, the characters are fairly one-dimensional. The lack of context in the book is probably by design – the mysteries will be solved as we move forward – but that doesn’t mean it’s all that fascinating. It’s more annoying than anything. I don’t like to do this, but as I was reading this, I couldn’t help thinking of another webcomic that stars teenaged girls in a dormitory setting where there are a lot of mysteries – Gunnerkrigg Court. That comic, however (even in the early stages), had verve and characterization that this books lacks. I don’t mind that the Browns are trying to create an atmosphere in this comic, but the balance is too far off, and when all the characters are not only ciphers but not even that interesting, the greater mysteries of the comic don’t matter.
I’m not a fan of Brown’s artistic style, but he does a pretty good job with it. He gives the girl Salamandra befriends a nice, innocent look, with giant eyes and larger lips than Salamandra, who has black, knotty hair and dark features. There’s a good sense of design to the characters and the setting, as Brown gives the island a nice, creepy look. There are some spooky parts that Brown doesn’t linger on, making them more effective, and he does a good job with the effects of lights and fog to create an even weirder setting. As with some artists, he’s not great as action, but luckily, there’s not a lot of action in the book. A very big problem with the book, which I’ve noticed with far too many printed versions of on-line stuff, is that the volume is really, really dark. There are pages that are very difficult to read and see clearly, and I notice that when you look at it on-line, the pages are much lighter. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a real problem, and someone needs to figure out how to transfer stuff from the world of the web to print without making everything darker. It’s hurting the product.
Maybe Hopeless, Maine does work better if you’re a teenager. Beats me. It doesn’t really do much for me, but, of course, you can always go to the Browns’ web site and check it out yourself. That’s the beauty of webcomics! But I would still like to thank Archaia for sending this to me. That was very awesome of them.
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