Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly
Published by DC/Minx
We Best Shots ladies have been planning to do a shootout review together for a while, but it’s just never come together before this. Luckily, we both got our hands on The New York Four, and both being big fans of DC’s Minx line and comics for women in general, we decided that there was no better way to team up than on this lovely little graphic novel by a couple of our favorite comic creators, Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly. So without further ado…
Sarah Jaffe: Let's talk about the Minx line to start with. I think it's suffered from a lack of awareness of their audience. The books seem to jump around in age level a lot.
Janelle Siegel: Yeah, there's no real set age group they're after. It's like they're trying to corner the shoujo manga set with a small line and without fully understanding that it encompasses a wide range of ages and tastes.
Sarah: You know much more about manga than me, can you tell me more about it?
Janelle: Well, shoujo manga is manga aimed at girls. And by girls it could mean anything from 8-year-olds to 30-year-olds. It all depends on the book. Manga is usually released by chapter in magazines aimed at a particular audience (i.e. young, goth, college age, etc.), which helps the readership define what they're buying before even looking at the story.
Sarah: So the Minx books so far have been all over the map rather than a specific set like the manga would be.
Janelle: It's like they're trying to imitate the broad range of manga without having any kind of guideposts to help readers identify what they're about to read. Heck, even a rating system could help.
Sarah: Or maybe as Minx gets more popular they could branch out, but for now they need to define the audience better.
Janelle: Do you feel like the books you've read have been cohesive in any way other than wanting a female readership?
Sarah: Not at all. The Plain Janes was good and even with a high school setting, it could appeal to older readers.
Janelle: The books I've read have all been aimed at a much younger audience than New York Four.
Sarah: I think the best young adult fiction is stuff you can keep reading as an adult.
Janelle: I agree 100%.
Sarah: I'm thinking Tamora Pierce, Francesca Lia Block.
Janelle: I'm thinking L.M. Montgomery.
Sarah: In the magazine industry, my real home, it's known that girls who read the teen mags are really preteens, and by the time they turn 17 they aren't reading Seventeen anymore.
Janelle: They're reading Cosmo.
Sarah: Right, they've moved on to adult stuff. (Which I think in DC's dream world would be moving on to Vertigo books, probably.) The young girls will read up, but older girls will only read down so much.
Janelle: It's totally true. I think DC needs to define where they're going with Minx much better. I laud any attempt at encouraging female readership, but just like comics fans have been struggling for years to make outsiders realize that comics are not a genre, DC needs to realize that "girl books" are not a genre either.
Sarah: Exactly! I love that they're doing it and I really want them to succeed at it.
Very well put, Janelle.
I haven't been a huge fan of the Minx art so far, really.
Janelle: Me neither. The writing has been very good, though.
Sarah: Yeah, it seems like "black and white" has been synonymous with "quick and easy,” and as we'll get to on NY4, it obviously doesn't have to be that way.
Janelle: Not at all, but it does seem like the art in past Minx books hasn't had much depth.
Sarah: And there are really great books out there done in black and white that don't suffer at all from that. Though I think the budget for Minx isn't what it is for most DC books.
Janelle: Oh, of course not, I'll bet the budget on one of these digests is less than a single issue of Superman. You can't really blame them, as I don't think these books are making much (if any) money right now.
Sarah: Hopefully that'll change! A little focus and they could do really well.
Janelle: The fact that DC was willing to take a chance on a line like this is a step in the right direction
Sarah: Absolutely. Because I think we both really liked The New York Four.
Janelle: For sure! I have a few complaints, but I really did love the book.
Sarah: I'm having a love affair with Ryan Kelly's art. And this came along just as I was in mourning for Local. He really shows what you can do with black and white.
Janelle: I like the art, mostly. His architectural drawings are ridiculously amazing. I sat there and stared at one panel in particular that was just a shot of the city. I just... I don't know. I think that a different artist on this book might have been a bit more cohesive with the tone of the story.
Sarah: I love his style. The one thing that got to me, though, was in panels where Riley is hiding behind her hair, it would look like she was missing an eye. It kind of jarred me out of the story.
Janelle: Yeah, I just find something to be desired in the art.
Sarah: It's worlds better than the other Minx books.
Janelle: For sure! I like it, but I would have liked to see something different on this particular book.
I was really amused that Frank, Riley's sister's boyfriend, looked just like American Virgin's protagonist, Adam.
Sarah: I didn't really notice. Now that I look at it, yeah, the hair and the jaw. (They need to get Becky Cloonan to draw a Minx book, by the way. Another artist who does great things with black and white.)
Janelle: There's one panel in particular that you can really see it, although there's a similarity in all of them. And Becky Cloonan’s art is amazing.
So, I think we've reached a consensus that Ryan Kelly = awesome artist, although I have my doubts about him being the perfect fit for this book.
Sarah: Absolutely. I definitely think this is the best Minx book so far. And I'm a huge fan of this creative team, but I'm also a big fan of Mike Carey and I wasn't really into his Minx book, Re-Gifters.
Janelle: I totally agree that this is the best Minx book so far. Now on to the writing: Did you feel like this was a complete story?
Sarah: Yes and no. It's definitely leading into something more.
Janelle: Exactly my opinion! If there isn't more, I'm going to be sorely disappointed. It felt more episodic.
Sarah: And had little tidbits dropped throughout to tease you. I want to know more about the other girls!
Janelle: The other girls definitely need their story told. I LOVED loved LOVED the New York facts. Each one made me smile.
Sarah: They’re so meta. A wink at the whole Internet generation.
Janelle: Well, and the story itself is a wink at the internet generation.
Sarah: Totally. And by inference, at 'geekiness' in general.
Janelle: I have had like 10 friends like Riley who spend so much time with their Crackberries even in public that you don't feel like they're there. It's a real problem.
Sarah: But I think it's a funny poke at the idea that comics are for people who don't have social lives, too. I like how Riley is super-confident on the Internet and super-shy in the real world.
Janelle: Definitely. Like, hey, you spend a bunch of time on the Internet, you don't have a real life, right? But a lot of people out there just function better over the Internet.
Sarah: And Riley was a good choice for the leadoff story, if there are in fact sequels (DC, please!) She's the awkward one, the one who has the hardest time adjusting.
Janelle: Brian Wood does an alarmingly good job at writing young women.
Sarah: And he does even when he's not specifically targeting a young female audience. I think that might be the difference here from some of the other Minx books with male writers.
Janelle: That's true. He's not purposely changing how he writes because it's for girls.
Sarah: I mean, Local and Demo have such strong female leads. And by the way, I love the little Local shout-out with the Theories & Defenses record in one panel. You haven't read Local yet, but you will, right?
Janelle: Very true. I will, I will!
Sarah: I think Local readers could get a kick out of this story, though. It's lighter, sure, but still in the same vein. A happier phase in Megan’s life could have resulted in this. And we didn’t really get to see too many of her relationships with women in that book.
Janelle: I mean, Brian Wood fans in general should read it for sure. I do have one gripe about the story, but it's spoiler-esque. Let me simply say I was not really happy with the outcome of the sisterly relationship. I feel that most women would chose FRIENDS over guys, and when it comes to sisters that choice should be even easier.
Sarah: But you know, I've been in that situation, (not with my sister!) and the betrayal of the friend hurts way worse than the betrayal of the guy. Although I agree with you that in this situation it should be different, especially considering the age difference.
Janelle: I know not everyone is like that well, and it's like - you're really going to stay with the guy after that?
Sarah: But we all know girls who excuse totally inexcusable behavior in their boyfriends.
Janelle: It's true. And Angie obviously has issues.
Sarah: They both do. Which I love, really. I like that the lead character is a mess. And we get to hope she pulls out of it, but it isn't neatly resolved.
Janelle: Well, they're not caricatures or 2-D outlines. They're very much three-dimensional. And as such, are flawed and a little crazy. Every character in this book is that way.
Sarah: Yes. Which is funny, because they could easily start out as stock characters. The sexy girl, the wild big sister, the socially-awkward girl, the tomboy, the artsy one...I can't wait for Merissa's story, personally. (Bonus points for two of the four not being white girls, too.)
Janelle: It starts as stereotypes and then becomes something much more. I can't wait for any of the other stories. I think that Riley is definitely the one I personally connect with the most, but I also think that it will be interesting to read about the rest of them.
Sarah: Yeah, as I said, I think she was the best character to start off with.
Janelle: I agree. Good choice, Brian Wood and Minx.
Sarah: I read this a couple of weeks ago, and then I re-read it today to prep for this, and I noticed things I hadn't the first time. Which is always a good sign.
Janelle: Reread value is always a good thing to have.
Sarah: I would like to see more of the girls' relationships with each other. I think we lost some of that because we were getting individual character introductions. And the relationship between Riley and Angie was so well done.
Janelle: And this was so focused on the story of Riley and Sneakerfreak that we lost a lot of the friend interaction.
Sarah: Which was kind of the point, though, upon reflection, that Riley was missing out on real life too.
Janelle: It showed exactly what the relationship between estranged sisters would be like, other than my earlier gripe.
Sarah: Yeah. The immediate--almost girlcrush that Riley gets on her supercool older sister.
Janelle: It’s very realistic. Again, Brian Wood may secretly be a woman.
Sarah: I was the older sister, so I remember finding my little sister annoying for a long time. And then coming back from college as she grew up and realizing that there was a cool person there that I could be friends with. And how flattering it is to have someone look up to you.
Janelle: And I am the younger and older sister and I have had it both ways. I've been looking up to my older sister (and still do!) but I've also had my little sister idolizing me.
Sarah: Yeah. Relationships between sisters are hard enough without throwing weird family drama and an asshole boyfriend into the mix.
Janelle: Very true! I guess the bottom line for me is that I liked the book, and I think both male and female readers could enjoy it. It's an interesting read, especially for people of the Internet generation. I highly recommend it. Your final thoughts?
Sarah: I think that this book is what the Minx line should be going for: teen fare that takes girls and their concerns seriously, even when those concerns seem as silly as an Internet boyfriend. It’s a book that I could’ve read when I was 12, but I don’t feel out of place reading now at age 28. And I want Ryan Kelly to illustrate my life.