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posted March 14, 2005
Karl Stevens Publishing, 64 pages, $9.95
Karl Stevens' Xeric Award-winning Guilty
smartly bills itself as a short story, which in this over-inflated comics publication landscape seems both appropriate and humble. We follow a young woman, Ingrid as she encounter an old boyfriend, Mark, and eventually meets up with him and one of his friends for a few beers in a Boston bar after work. The nice thing about Stevens' story is that the main characters have very clear motivations -- Ingrid's the guilty one who admits she doesn't like people hating her; Mark just seems lonely -- that drive their actions (both are also guilty of cheating on that relationship, and of being less than honest with each other during their brief encounters here). Smaller emotions and feelings intrude on that primary drive. This stands in contrast to what a lot of younger writers do, which is give their characters ambiguous feelings in an attempt to make them "complex," making their participation in the storyline feel like an arbitrary set of marching instructions. We suspect what's going to happen when Mark and Ingrid meet up, but we want to see that story played out on their faces. If there's a negative to the story as told, it's that Ingrid ends up being about 50 times more interesting than Mark; his narrative path always feels like the second option, and eventually peters out rather severely.
Mark's and Ingrid's and everyone else's faces are drawn from photographs, and how the story hits the reader may depend on how they process that kind of art. There's some of the stiffness common to this approach, and at times the overwhelming detail of a character's face will feel too pungent, too real, like a startlingly well-shot close-up in a film. That can play hell with narrative rhythm. On the positive side, Stevens' is practically guaranteed to have interesting body-types and facial characteristic in his work; this volume is well designed in that way. Stevens also does some interesting work with memory, the intrusion of panels taken directly from how the characters remember the other person, bits and pieces that may crowd out more coherent thought. That could be developed to greater effect in future projects.