The pop culture landscape is a large, at times overwhelming cavalcade of ideas that overlap each other, re-purpose concepts, and blatantly steal from one another. So when the cover to “Emily and the Strangers” looked familiar, I chalked it up to the cross-pollination of white people ideas.
Then, after a cursory Google search, I found out that Emily the Strange is a thing. Oh.
Written by Rob Reger and Mariah Heuhner
Illustrated by Emily Ivie
With the help of her trio of troublemaking cats, Emily is determined to make the most rockin’ song the world has ever known and win a legendary haunted guitar . . . but can she do it solo? Only one thing is for sure – what Emily wants, Emily gets . . . sometimes.
Despite the character having a history through advertising, graphic novels, other comic series, and a proposed film adaptation, this issue gives readers, without exposition of any sort, a clear idea of who Emily is, and gets right to the heart of the character quite quickly. This is a neat trick, and one that I wish was a more common occurrence in comics. Sure, Emily is speaking to the reader via her narration, but there’s none of that clunky “My name is Emily, and I’m blah blah” business that we get so often. Because the first 2/3 of the story take place with only Emily and her cats, the reader is given plenty of time to catch up to who she is and what she’s all about.
The most effective story-telling element in the book is Emily’s desire to build, create, and discover new things. This, very much so, reminds me of being a child and being obsessed with inventing new things and building “prototypes” in my basement. I don’t know if this is how all kids spent their waking hours, but it certainly was how I did. Emily’s cats make nice scapegoats for her failures here, and while they do seem to be mischievous (they are black cats, after all), they probably take the fall for just about all of Emily’s mistakes.
The tone of the story is one of a kid, home alone, having to make her own fun. Now, Emily’s age is never really stated, but she seems to be a tween or young teenager, and this sort of “disappearing into your hobbies” world is, again, something that hits very close to home to me, and I assume to many comics fans. Despite the world she lives in appearing to be, at least partially, magical, the real magic happens when she’s alone with her toys and her cats and no one can interfere or jut into her experience.
Of course, through a series of unforeseen events, someone else winds up cutting into her solo project, and forcing her to start a band. That appears to be the theme of this mini – what happens when a loner has to be social? It is by no means an original idea, but it is a fun one to explore, especially given the intense internal world presented early on in this issue. This was said earlier, but bears repeating; this issue does an astounding job creating a world and vibe for the series without resorting to the usual tricks of the trade, and manages to catch the reader up on just about all essential information in the span of just a few pages. It would be interesting to hear from a longtime Emily fan, and see if they felt this issue was full of redundancies or basic biographical information, but I can’t really see that being the case.
The art, by Emily Ivie, is absolutely stunning. The attention to detail Ivie provides is damn impressive – from the intricate backgrounds full of machinery, wallpaper, and sundry miscellany, to her subtle (and I mean really subtle) facial expressions, Ivie succeeds in just about every way. I made sure to mention the facial expressions because Emily is a character that has a very distinct look, and each time you see her, she looks exactly like her, but with small details that really do let you into her mindset: wider eyes, a sly smile, a crooked grin. None of it is over the top, and all of it is effective.
In the interest of full disclosure, I picked this book for review because so many of this week’s titles seemed, frankly, boring to me. In my despair, I found this book which, from the striking cover image, had me curious. The book manages to be a comic about music, a rare thing, and an even rarer thing to get right, and it, again, succeeds. The characterization, art, and coloring work together to give you a visual image of what the audio might sound like, and that is no simple task. “Emily and the Strangers” joins the lineage of books like “Phonogram” and “LP,” where a visual medium has been able to bring across an aural one. That is a rare feat.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – Buy