Vito Delsante, writer
Rachel Freire, artist
MTV had this weird, late-night pseudo-telenovela/soap/anthology series called Undressed once. Each episode would feature segments from three separate stories–one was about high schoolers, one was about college kids, one was about young twentysomethings, and all of them were about fucking. You’d follow each story for, I don’t know what it was, half a dozen episodes? And the attractive young actors would have endearingly awkward shenanigans about whether or not to be fisted by their partner or losing their virginity or having a threesome or some such. It was cute and earnest and hot and addictive, and even though it could get pretty explicit it was also really sweet. That’s how I’d describe FCHS, too.
Operating out of the Batcave that is NYC retail mecca Jim Hanely’s Universe, writer Delsante and artist Freire have crafted an adorable, believable high-school soap set circa 1990. It’s got a couple of major things going for it. The first is Delsante’s scripting, a sort of easy-going casual banter that tends toward the economical as most comics writing must but never comes across like the presentation of an array of reactions designed to move the plot from point A to point B. Sex is on the mind of these kids all the time–which is perfectly accurate!. And while they discuss it with realistic cussing and matter-of-factness–and are even occasionally shown nude in the service of the material–it’s neither some porno smutfest nor a depiction of teen sex as some soul-crushing vortex of sordid desire. It’s something young people really like doing–just like playing in a band or playing football or jackassing around or eating tacos. Hooray for that! Indeed, that lighthearted tone carries over into the book’s very pacing: Delsante will skip right past relatively momentous events you’d expect a teen drama to hit hard, content to study the characters as they anticipate them and then react to the fallout instead. I wasn’t sure that would work, but it does.
The second selling point is undoubtedly Freire. The reason I compared the book to that weird MTV sex show is because, as was the case there, I could easily see myself casually watching these characters for months on end. Her kids are cute as buttons, sexy when they need to be and childlike when they need to be. Folks have compared it to the Archie house style, and rightly so, but while it’s just as easy to read and makes its characters just as easy to keep track of, it’s far less strident and played to the cheap seats. If Tim Hensley tweaked ’60s teen comics toward angry angularity in Wally Gropius, Freire dials it down to a sort of lush, gently stoned laid-back wave.
No, it’s not some Black Hole/The Diary of a Teenage Girl-style tear-down-the-sky cri de coeur on adolescence. I can understand how it might feel slight to some people, and I can understand how the laconic pace might make some folks shrug. But by the end I really wanted to see the rest of these characters’ senior year play out. Hopefully I’ll get the chance.