Danica Novgorodoff, writer/artist
First Second, 2008
This is like half of a good book. The visual half, for the most part. Danica Novgorodoff’s story of a Kentucky firefighter and the undocumented Mexican worker she kinda sorta befriends after a fire claims the stable he tended is a stunning-looking thing. She has a wiry line that often suggests handwriting, with all its idiosyncracies, so that the occasional wonky scale or perspective seems like (or can be passed off as) a deliberate choice. Individual moments beam out a little Taiyo Matsumoto, a little Ralph Steadman, a little Gerald Scarfe, only with the dial turned from savage to lilting. And her watercolor coloring takes a limited palette of greens, browns, grays, and oranges and fleshes out the artwork so lushly I barely even realized just how few colors she limited herself to in the first place. It’s in the moments where she really draws with the colors–a creek, a tornado, the omnipresent cloud and fire motifs–that the book comes alive.
But its in moments where the dialogue takes the lead where it sputters. Frequently too portentous–every conversation creaks under the weight of capital-M Meaning–it fails to convince us of firefighter Ursa’s shattered psyche, so that when she perform’s the book’s central act it feels like a horrifying, selfish overreaction. Which, granted, it’s supposed to feel like, but you’re also supposed to think “okay, I could see where that came from,” whereas I just thought “Christ, what a fucking maniac.” Ditto her behavior during the event’s fallout, which adds “asshole” to the equation. Meanwhile, Rafi, the Mexican immigrant, is laden with poetic visions of saints and white horses–it’s just laid on too thick. The key for Novgorodoff (an Isotope winner and Eisner nominee who clearly doesn’t need any advice from me but what the hey) will be to scale back her swing as a writer and tell a story as understated as her art is sweeping.