Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: Young Men of a Certain Mind by Lars Martinson

The Minnesotan Lars Martinson is a bit of an iconic figure when it comes to the subject of how to do self-publishing correctly. And yes there is a right and wrong way to go about it or at least a “worse” and a “much much much better” way. Lars is squarely in the much much much better camp. He published his beautifully rendered Tonoharu Part One under the auspices of the Xeric foundation in 2007 and has been a critical darling ever since.  But before that he published a 43-page mini-comic titled Young Men of a Certain Mind in 2003. It is interesting to look back at this spiritual predecessor to the Tonoharu books and see the early glimmer of the later maturity of line and tone that his work would develop. However the beautifully dense crosshatching that would so effortlessly populate his later books at times seems forced in YMoaCM. As if Martinson is shading to fill in the panel and not in actual accordance to the contents of the panel. At times the horizontal lines beginning at panel borders run afoul of the figures within them. On the other hand the panel composition is as good as you could wish for. The word bubble layout in correlation to the interior art is never crowded and Martinson shows a deft hand with negative space and blocking. One standout feature in the construction of this book is the way the last panel of every page works as a pausing point for the narrative, a sort of natural cadence break in the dialogue. The dialogue pacing is such that each page has a settled feeling to it there is no incomplete cadence to the page pitch, every last panel is a small self-contained ending for that page if not for the overall narrative arc.

And it is indeed a very enjoyable narrative arc. The main character goes through his daily mundane minutia at times bemusedly detached from humanity and at other frothing with spittle flecked rage at their perceived shortcomings. He is a character profoundly unhappy with his station in life, at ends to where he is headed, and all his observations are tinged by this lack of situational empathy. Martinson has a few insightful moments during the book, chiefly the idea of the occasional alien-ness of the world around us. The moment when you look up from your coffee and something shifts and you can no longer breach the gulf of your surrounding culture. It is in these moments that the strength of YMoaCM lies.

As a whole Young Men of a Certain Mind is a great comic. The draftsmanship is solid and pleasing if lacking Martinson’s future brilliance and the story will resonate with more than the titular demographic.

If you are of a certain mind to purchase it you can do so here.