I never got around to writing about the last comic I read, Are You Listening?, Tillie Walden's latest. I quite enjoyed her webcomic turned book On a Sunbeam. That was a science fiction romance that didn't do a lot to explain it's world. Every character seemed to be a woman, but unlike say James Tiptree Jr.'s "Houston Houston, Where are You?", that situation was not explained or used as a thematic point. It just was the world the story existed in. A lot of the science fictional elements in that book were probably underexplained, but it didn't really matter because it was a narrative in space about two young women in love and the events that divided them and brought them back together. The spaceships and other worlds served as a backdrop for the interpersonal narrative.
Are You Listening? veers into the fantastical at a certain point, but for some reason feels much less successful in that respect. The story starts out in the "real world" by all appearances and then after awhile we get some weird events and creepy guys and... almost psychadelic landscape and some talk about changing reality, but all of it feels really tacked on, underexplained, underutilitized, and undermotivated in respect to the narrative previous to it's introduction.
Unfortunately that narrative itself also felt clichéd and underdeveloped. Two young woman end up together on a road trip, running away from aspects of their life and developing a relationship. But the setup starts with all the clichés of a slightly older (but cool) adult picking up a younger adult who has left home. The younger one acts angry, lies, withholds information. The older one is kind or exasperated and then turns out to have her own issues to show she too is running away. Both of the characters personal issues felt sketched in too lightly, too far into the book, and then the fantastical elements appear and the narrative never really revisits the other content. This felt like a book that really needed stronger editorial guidance.
On the other hand, the drawing itself is lively and fluid, and the colors are really beautiful and moody. The color palette varies greatly based on the scene, the time of day, and the landscapes are quite attractive. You can just look at this book and really enjoy it on a basic visual level. The biggest issue visually is that the two protagonists look too similar. The one has glasses but as soon as those are removed, differentiating the two becomes difficult. While it is possible (and likely) to attribute this to a thematic connection about their similarities, it also feels like a failure of the drawing. You can make characters looks similar without drawing them in a way to makes it difficult to differentiate them.
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