Readers of The Lost Art


August 20th, 2009



Writer: Brian Wood

Artist: Ryan Kelly

Reviewer: Alex 


What defines a place? What defines a person? These are the two questions that Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly seek to investigate in Local

Local was produced using a similar structure to Demo (another project of Wood’s from a year or two prior): twelve fairly self-contained stories with a common linking theme, initially published one at a time as individual issues before being collected into a single book. 

In Local‘s case, the theme concept was to base each story in a particular location and have that location inform the nature of the story; not just in terms of referencing landmarks or particular local details, but in terms of using the ambience and character of the place to suggest the nature and style of the human story told there. 

Without being a local of any of Local‘s localities (which are spread across the U.S.A. and Canada), it’s difficult to assess the accuracy of their portrayals. However, in a way, it doesn’t matter; each story does have a distinctive tone that seems to come – to some extent – from the setting. That Wood and Kelly have succeeded at all in this interesting and ambitious notion is to be applauded, but Local is worthwhile reading for many other reasons too. 

The second linking factor for the series is a character, Megan McKeenan, who was initially intended not so much as a protagonist, but more just as a narrative device to link the examinations of the locations together. However, as the series went on, Wood found his stories gravitating increasingly towards Megan, and since the stories are set with intervals of approximately a year between each of them (starting in 1994 through to nearly the present day), the reader gets to see a lot of Megan’s life – in brief moments but over an extensive period of time. Her development becomes the point of the series, crystallising the thematic ideas about place into something substantial and meaningful centred on one person. 

Megan starts issue one in Portland (Oregon), being pressured by her drug addict boyfriend to defraud a pharmacy, and the resolution of that story sets her on her way to what proves to be a transitory young life spent travelling extensively. She is something of a lost soul, never staying too long in one place, constantly seeking an identity for herself. 

When reading Local as individual issues one at a time when each was first published (fairly spaced out over the course of around two and a half years), Megan could come across as a rather unsympathetic character, somewhat arrogant and self-destructive perhaps, making mistakes in her life then upping sticks to try again. However, when the whole series is read together, there’s a much greater sense of progression and it’s easier to understand her journey and what it means. 

It is also important to note, though, that Megan is by no means the main focus of all twelve stories, in fact some of the best stories only feature her tangentially – a personal favourite is ‘Theories and Defences’, which examines the personal stories behind the breakup of a band. 

Throughout Local, Wood skilfully demonstrates excellent understanding of human character. All the stories except the last are around twenty-two pages long and they’re generally quite decompressed (regularly featuring big splash panels just evocatively illustrating the locality), but characters are very well developed in these short spaces, with believable nuances of human behaviour captured subtly and astutely. It’s difficult to describe the genre and tone of the stories with any precision – they’re often more dramatic and focused than ‘slice-of-life’ might suggest, but they never resort to melodrama, they’re simply brief but compelling snapshots of flawed human beings at various points in their lives. 

Wood’s scripts are made to work by Kelly’s excellent black and white art. Whilst some of his characters can look a little alike, his evocation of emotion through expression is well executed, and the variation he manages in the visual feel of each story, deftly adapting his style within the restrictions of working only in black and white, is very impressive. 

Both creators have clearly invested a lot of themselves in the project, and one of the many nice things about the collected book is that it retains the short notes pages written by Wood and Kelly that appeared in the original single issues. These offer an insightful commentary on the stories, the creative processes and the stories behind the stories (or at least some mildly diverting blathering). 

So what does define places and people? The answer that Local suggests, as we see Megan develop through her experiences seeking an identity and a place to call home, is that the two elements define each other, that we are all shaped by the places we live and the nature of where we live is a product of the people that live there. So, yes, Local is a book about place, but it works because it provides insight into people. 


Hardcover: 384 pages

Publisher: Oni Press (17 Sep 2008)

ISBN10: 193496400X

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