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Buffalo Roots
posted February 19, 2008
 

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Creator: John Cei Douglas
Publishing Information: Self-Published, landscape-format comic book, 16 pages, 2006
Ordering Numbers: www.shortformeat.com, john@shotformeat.com

imageThis is a very young person's book, or at least a book purposefully written in a very young voice. As you might expect, this means an overly sentimental plot, a lot of achingly self-conscious moments of drama, and characters that make you want to enter into the universe of the story and spend several days punching each one in the face. There are basic craft shortcomings. Layouts are hard to follow. The writing doesn't differentiate between characters strongly enough; it feels like one voice instead of many. Supporting characters in particular don't rise above the level of "types." The art varies wildly in terms of its visual impact and feels slightly off-model throughout, as if the cartoonist either couldn't maintain the same stylizations of figures and especially faces from page to page or hadn't quite settled on the artistic effect he desired from those designs before plunging into his narrative. Apparently a self-published, self-distributed comic based on the author's Internet work, there's nothing about the project's execution that makes you think this should be made available in any form other than the ones in which it already appears.

Buffalo Roots offers up a few promising elements, however, enough of them that I want to read the cartoonist's next book -- or maybe three books from now. John Cei Douglas flatters his general subject, a series of snapshots of a summer relationship played out across revelations from both people involved, by selecting character types that have just enough interest to hold a reader's attention: an artist who cleaves to a place out of what might be a combination of paralysis and fear and what might simply be his finding his own level, and a young woman who likes being surrounded by artists and substituting their drive for the lack of focus in her own life, but seems perfectly happy to cop to that. In other words, they're fairly unpleasant dopes, and Douglas refreshingly doesn't feel the need to make them any more sympathetic than their behavior calls for. Douglas' use of spot color and what is essentially portraiture of the female lead folded into the story as elements of visual narrative screams gimmick from the first, and continues to at least say gimmick in a very loud voice throughout. And yet some of the variations utilized are affecting, such as one scene where the female lead appears washed out in a manner that suggests her lack of commitment to the moment and the other person. It's a range of effects that a more experienced artist might use to really drive a score of thematic elements home, and it's something Douglas might be able to use in a future work in a way that isn't as obvious as what we glean from its employment here. At least I hope so.

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