Writer: Frank Gogol
Illustrator & Colorist: Nenad Cviticanin
Letterer: Sean Rinehart
Editor: Paul Allor
Publisher: Source Point Press
WHAT IS IT?
A coming-of-age murder mystery set around a small group of friends at the end of the '90s.
It's got a Stephen King vibe when it comes to the main characters and their friendship, though the book doesn't seem like it'll have any supernatural happenings. Imagine Stand By Me, but bleaker.
The small-town murder mystery also reminded me of Broadchurch/Gracepoint or The Killing.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A closely knit group of friends are all just trying to grow up and get by, day by day. All of their parents are dead, crazy or struggling hard to make ends meet.
When one of them is murdered, they set out to find out who did it. They live in a small town, so it had to have been someone they know.
But who'd want to kill some kid with no future? And why?
The book really captures that late-'90s nostalgia with period-appropriate style, music, and posters.
Some song lyrics from The Offspring's "The Kids Aren't Alright" do double-duty of also strongly setting the story's theme.
The way the issue opens is cinematic, making for a very strong hook. There's the murder, sure, but also the narration style and pacing sets it up as not your average coming-of-age story about a group of friends coming together to be stronger than they were before. You get the tone of the story immediately. I've put the page below if you want to check it out.
You also see it on the first page, but throughout the story, the thought to pacing is very good, both with regard to balloon and caption position, as well as page and panel layout.
There's one page that's just straight-up black that hits especially hard, and another panel that should contain three of the friends, except it's split into three separate panels. The latter effectively paces the scene, revealing each character's face and body language, and showing how even together, they’re alone in their grief.
Another way the panel design works is by using small "insert shot" panels to highlight elements in the art we may otherwise have missed, giving context to characters and their situations.
The character backgrounds and interests, shown by their rooms and home lives, help define them and give them more personality.
You can tell the friends have a deeper friendship than most. It almost reads strangely, seeing two teenage boys have a friendship where they can be open and honest about their feelings and how much they miss their dead parents. Often with male friendships, there's mostly just a protective layer of shallow conversation, making fun of each other, and general posturing.
The sound effects are either incorporated into the art or match the clean aesthetic of the book. The borderless balloons also help maintain that elegant style while grounding the tone in the serious realm.
Captions coming in from the side with a white stripe give a certain style to the book that I appreciate.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
There are times when dialogue or situations can read as simplified, melodramatic or derivative of CW dramas. For example, an angsty boy in a nice house is rude to his adoptive parents for seemingly no reason and angrily leaves. His father responds, "Dammit," frustratedly. His homemaker mother, drawn like a character straight out of a catalogue from the 1950s tries to be a supportive wife. It's very two-dimensional and expected, lacking nuance.
All our main characters are white and two of them look so similar, it can be hard to tell them apart. A change in style, body type, hair color, accessories, or anything could have helped this.
Similarly, all four kids are white, though each does seem to come from different economic backgrounds.
Character movements can feel artificial, like they were modeled after real people posing awkwardly in those positions for the artist.
Some of the art can be a little jarring. A character jumps over a stone wall that is easy to miss in the panel before it, so you end up wondering where it came from. Another time, the scene breaks the "180 Degree Rule," which leads to some confusion when the dialogue is between two of the characters who look very similar.
Cursing makes it possibly not the best read for kids.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Dead End Kids is the perfect comic for any small-town-murder-mystery fans looking for a new story, or '90s kids looking to scratch that nostalgia itch.
It may not be perfect, but it still tells a story that's good-looking and compelling. Definitely worth checking out.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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