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August 23, 2007

CR Review: Hurricane Season #1


Creators: Jon Sukarangsan
Publishing Information: Fortune Cookie Press, comic book, 48 pages, 2007, $4
Ordering Numbers:

Surprise, surprise. I've never heard of Hurricane Season, and I have only a slight memory of the name of its creator, Jon Sukarangsan, that I can't actually place. And yet unlike the vast majority of similarly self-published comics of this type that appear out there every year in the time period between the early-summer MoCCA Festival and the mid-fall Small Press Expo, a period roughly equivalent to that described in the title, Hurricane Season #1 turns out to be a breezy, entertaining read.

imageHurricane Season's first issue introduces us to a dislocated "survivor" named Billie -- never in danger, she spends the night of the storm getting drunk at the Marriott -- who loses her present (and childhood) home in flooding caused by Hurricane Anne. This not only loosens the tethers Billie has to her present situation, but it nearly severs ties to a past already weakened by the loss of her parents. Not helping matters is a husband who is unable or unwilling to cut a business trip short and return home. Maybe helping matters is a stranger with whom she makes friendly contact in a bar, and almost certainly on her side is a childhood friend who stumbles back into her life. The characters are more stock players than they are memorable individuals, but Sukarangsan easily shakes into clarity a Polaroid of each cast member's personality. He employs a sturdy, even occasionally elegant art style reminiscent of Craig Thompson's, and seems perfectly confident in his ability to fully depict Billie's world.

The best and worst elements of this first issue both center around the narrative. I love its ambling pace. It's not the kind of story where you can see the commercially imposed "very special graphic novel" epiphany and conclusion bearing down on the first few pages from a 128-page horizon, and it's not one that's forced along with an imposed from the outside genre-fiction plot or even one juiced with a kind of storytelling density designed to push and shove the reader around until they pay attention. It's more straight-forward than that, and more laid back, and the hooks into character development are personal, not life-threatening. You're eased into the story, and that's so not where most comics are right now it's almost stunning. That approach also reinforces a sense of place, the laid back cities circling the Gulf Coast, and the personal inability of the protagonist to simply gather up the goods and make a sudden reversal.

On the other hand, some of the set pieces feel more staged than they should, sometimes running right up against far more effective moments. There's a scene where Billie paddles out to her home with an uncle, and the nature of the devastation, the odd uncle character, and seeing someone grapple with major life issues while in a rowboat lends the scene a quirky energy. A follow-up scene, where Billie tries to convince her husband to return home, reads like a high school actress trying out for a part by doing a few pages from a friend's under-developed one-act. The neighbor character seems generally over-manic, like he stumbled over from a caper comedy, and the use of long-ago diary entries seemed like it was being checked off a list on a narrative scavenger hunt. I don't want to overpraise a book that has modest aims and hits most of them square on, and I don't want to punish the artist with loftier than necessary expectations because one can see promise in his work as well as skill. I'm not afraid to say the strengths really do outnumber the weaknesses in Hurricane Season, and I want to see more. If there's artistic growth that reveals itself as more pages are completed, I'll feel happier for having been on board.

posted 1:00 pm PST | Permalink

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