As a reviewer, I occasionally get the chance to review comics from creators just starting to get into the biz. Almost always, I take that chance. It’s a gamble, of course. Sometimes you get delightful gems like Tales to Suffice or Silence & Co.; other times, you’re trying to find something nice to say about Tickling a Dead Man, volume one. Between those extremes are the works that represent a respectable first outing for a new creator, something that proves they’ve got chops, but need time and support to develop. Hogtown Spirits lands comfortably into that natural middle ground.
In no way does Parnell show both his potential and inexperience more than in his opening lines, which he jams with all kinds of colorful turns of phrase, not all of which works or even makes much sense:
“The rain falls in four-four time. On pedestrians pounding pavement. Chatter and laughter flapping in the wind. Every heart a beat away from teetering off the edge in this goddamn city. But tonight…tonight I was a trembling treble clef…an odd-metered rhythm…tonight I was two grand short of seeing tomorrow.”
Basically, Parnell tries too hard, at least at first. As his plot picks up, however, the fancy language thins out and you can concentrate on the life of Wyatt, semi-professional jazz trumpeter, and his travails in Hogtown. Oddly, despite the threat of getting bumped off by Savoy Sharp getting established early on, it doesn’t have much presence in the issue (nor . Whatever concern Wyatt has about this particular jeopardy, it all gets muddled into the general melancholy of his life.
That’s really what stands out most from Hogtown: the mood. It evokes the noir era—the damp nights, the wet streets, the booze, the bluesy sound of jazz—yet still has a foot in contemporary times. The city itself, a sort of bastard child of Chicago’s gangland and industrial Philadelphia, is the ideal backdrop, reinforcing the hopelessness to which everyone is resigned. There’s an old joke about what would be the Hogtown version of the Manhattan cocktail: “Go stand by a puddle with your mouth open and wait for a car to pass.”
At the heart of Wyatt’s depression is, of course, a dame: Silver Meadows, “the one I wished was the one that got away,” “always everybody’s and never mine.” To their credit, neither Wyatt nor Parnell blame Silver for the situation, nor does she invite it with any serious defect in her personality or blatantly bad choices. In fact, Silver doesn’t register much as a character at all. Her value is more symbolic, the very personification of a dream that got away from Wyatt. The story’s tragedy is it suggests he’d have been better off had she stayed that way. Once Wyatt finally gets her in his grasp, she becomes nothing more than another piece of his sad, hard reality.
Honestly, Parnell has a more compelling story in Wyatt’s struggle to achieve the artistic success he desires. Compared to his effervescent, dreamy interaction with Silver, Wyatt really seems to come alive when resenting the special guests who take his usual place at the bar he plays for, calling them “imposters,” “interlopers,” “tourists.” Likewise, the simultaneous awe and jealousy he feels for Clay Morgan, his equal in age yet superior in skill, strikes you as a more potent source of conflict, with real ramifications for his life. Parnell clearly intended to place Wyatt in a “What if…?” scenario by having Silver pull him away from Clay’s invitation to jam, but you can’t help feeling both protagonist and author made a poor choice by picking the woman over the art.
Felix’s art complements Parnell’s writing in that it stands above the work of a complete amateur, but clearly needs a good deal more refinement to be considered a professional product. It’s the sort of art I’ve often seen in The Gathering anthologies: capable, but a little awkward and uncertain, as if Felix is still figuring out her style as she draws. She certainly seems more comfortable drawing the inanimate (read: the easily referenced) than people, as Wyatt and the other characters frequently change stature and features throughout the issue.
– I want a Skyride in my town, even though we have no skyscrapers or skyline to speak of.
A respectable effort, but plays too much with clichés, overlooking its potentially novel details.