I’d already decided that Justin Madson‘s Happy Town Tales was going to be the one book I reviewed for the week (based both on its hefty 80-page length and because it consists of three separate stories), but three pages in I fell in love this the book and realized that there would be plenty for me to talk about. I am not familiar with Madson’s other work, but I’ve since been told that his graphic novel Breathers is something I need to pick up.
First in this collection, and comprising the bulk of Happy Town Tales, is “No Girls Allowed.” As I said, this book made a strong impression on me early on. Part of the reason for this is Madson’s gorgeous art. He has a simplified style that doesn’t abandon complex perspective or intricate backgrounds. He seems keenly aware of what in a given scene needs to be to focused upon in detail versus what needs to be simplified down to a gestural line. His figures are subtly elastic, allowing them to better emote through gentle exaggerations. The author’s use of black-spotting is particularly strong as well, though if I have one criticism, it’s that his overall framing is sometimes confusing. It’s not such a problem as to hinder readability, but it is at times distracting.
The other reason that I was so responsive to this book is the quality of writing. “No Girls Allowed;” about revisiting childhood memories in the wake of a suicide; is exceedingly well paced. Madson wisely leaves plenty of space between moments without making the story feel slow. The protagonist is interesting in that he’s not particularly sympathetic. He comes across as a descent-but-self-involved person who can only view a person’s tragedy through his own mirror. I find this sort of complex character so much more interesting than the usual bland everyman or author-surrogate. Continue reading