Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sacred Heart

I read this book because it came highly recommended by my friend and colleague Jarod Roselló. I am very glad I did, but first I should also tell you to check out Jarod's work, too, because it is totally fun and interesting. And tell him I sent you!

Sacred Heart began as a webcomic, but all 19 of those chapters have been reworked or redrawn for publication in this book version. Those 19 chapters open the story, and the book offers many more pages that lead to a bizarre, jarring, and surprising conclusion that leaves many questions unanswered. Luckily, this is the first of a proposed four book series that will hopefully shed more light on what went on here. I do not mean this in a bad way, but I have now read this book at least three times, because it is so beguiling and compelling.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The main narrative here seems to be your typical punk-rock-teens-on-their-own story. Teenagers hang out, listen music, go to shows, drink, party, have sex, and experience lots of personal drama. But then there are murders. And what is weird, these murders happen but there is no seeming backlash. No one is afraid, and no one seems to be investigating them. They just kind of happen. So there is a series of unsolved murders but there are also a series of other enigmatic happenings.

There is a pair of teen soothsayers who are reading people's futures. There is our main character, an adolescent girl named Ben, and her strained relationship with her more popular sister Empathy. Then there is Ben's friend/boyfriend Mahoney, who seems to exercise every sexual fetish possible, one of which includes licking the soles of a stranger's boots (GROSS). What does become clear in this series of confusions is that these characters are as well defined as they are memorable. And their relationships are very organic and interesting.

This book does a great job of capturing the feeling of being a teenager. Even the quiet, solitary moments when one is trying to entertain oneself and escape the monotony of everyday were very relatable for me.
Heh. Butts.
The first time I read this book I felt it was just going to be a teen relationship book, and it is that in excellent fashion. But it turns into something else by the end, and I am not saying anything else about it. Go read the book for yourself and see what I am talking about. In addition to the story, there is so much I love about the art style. The book features its own logic and iconography, two things that subtly contributed to its overall effect (no spoilers - I told you I am not saying anymore!).

Something that is apparent when reading this book: debut graphic novelist Liz Suburbia is accomplished and no neophyte creator. I love her stylistic choices, from how she dramatizes the force and power of musical performances (check out that excerpt above) to her way of capturing emotional moments and exchanges. Like I said earlier, I got way more wrapped up in this book than I imagined. She talks about her work on it here and more about it and her career here.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been full of praise. Hillary Brown called it "a genuinely wonderful book both in its clever approach as well as the more guttural and immediate experience of enjoying it sans analysis." Marie Anello lauded it because "Suburbia’s style, her humor, her grim and extremely selective approach to world building leaves the reader feeling tense, enthralled, and haunted even after the second, third, or fourth re-read." Zach Hollwedel wrote, "Suburbia's attention to detail (including references to obscure movies and pop culture cult hits) creates an impressively fully realized world that catapults and [sic] adult reader back to those four years in which everything changes"

Sacred Heart was published by Fantagraphics Books, and they have a preview and more here. Original versions of the first nineteen chapters that begin the book are available here. There are some profanity, nudity, sexual situations, and violence in this book, so I recommend it to readers old enough to handle those things.

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