My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Should you buy a graphic novel because of a t-shirt? In the case of Liz Suburbia, yes. Let me explain. I first discovered Suburbia when I came across one of her designs in a local art shop in my hometown. With such a distinctive & mysterious style, I looked her up & found the original website for Sacred Heart. I was instantly hooked, even if it seemed like the story came secondary to the art.
And what is the story? Ben Schiller & her friends appear to be mostly normal kids growing up in the small town of Alexandria. There are football games & dances at the high school; the local punk band plays the church hall; & they’re all counting down the days when the teen-mom-to-be in their group will give birth. But readers soon see that something’s off. Dead bodies of their classmates are turning up with frequency, there are no adults, & the entire community is “only a few months out” from some mysterious event. And then Ben starts bleeding from stigmata wounds. . .
I want to be clear that even though I’m under this comic’s spell, I have no idea where this story is headed. But it’s packed with so many personal reflections on inspiration, faith, loyalty, & art that I gladly let myself be swept away. (Heck, it was also the reason why I checked out Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang last year–I needed to know why Ben picked it up!) And I suspect that this more atmospheric approach is exactly what Suburbia’s striving for. One of the main mysteries of the book–the dead kids–is resolved but the stakes of that reveal are quietly rendered less significant in a few pages with the explanation that the deaths are just an intro to the chaos ahead for Alexandria.
Suburbia’s sardonic perspective also lies in her stealth deployment of pop culture. Punk rock & cult movies hold just as much meaning as religious icons & art in the lives of Alexandria’s kids. One poignant scene has Ben sitting on a couch, overwhelmed by her responsibilities & the dwindling supply of resources. She’s bleeding for no reason & no one is coming to help her. In the background, the TV plays Boy Meets World reruns & she just stares at the screen with an unreadable expression on her face. The moment is funny & terrible all at the same time.
If you are curious but limited on funds, check out the above website, which has about two-thirds of the book’s content posted. If you find yourself enthralled as well, then run to your local comic shop & snatch it up! And then wait breathlessly with me for the next volume.