Written by Dino Stamatopoulous
Illustrated by Leah Tiscione
Soundtrack by Stamatopolous, Scott Adsit, Britta Phillip, Jay Johnston, Tanya Tully, Tom Bell, and Jonny Polonsky
Published by Starburns Industries Press
Where to start with Trent, the first release from the newly-formed imprint Starburns Industries Press. On the surface, it's a musical graphic novel about a family raising a dead baby. But once the layers are peeled away, it's still a musical graphic novel about a family raising a dead baby, but with pure and subtle notes of humor, love, and heart.
Skipping ahead to the afterword, Trent started as a comedy sketch-turned-play-turned-musical written by Dino Stamatopolous, best known for playing the character Star-Burns on Community, and the creator of the black comedies High School USA!, Mary Shelley's Frankenhole, and Moral Orel, which Trent finds itself right at home with.
Trent initially follows the married couple Doris and Bob through the ninth month of Doris' first pregnancy, with Bob setting the book's tone immediately, as he's unafraid to drop a dead baby joke or three. Furthering the mood is the book's first song, about Bob's hope for a living baby which he doubts will happen, cued up only a few pages in.
The book's Table Of Musical Contents page lists the soundtrack's eight songs, where to listen to them, and when, which is at the appearance of a musical note and corresponding track number. If you miss that clue, you may notice that all the dialogue has musical notes as well. Oh, and if you miss that too, hopefully you notice the change in the art.
Trent, illustrated by Leah Tiscione, is largely colored in grayscale, indicative of the tone, and eases into color during the songs, akin to when the color bleeds into the world during the masturbation scene in Pleasantville. The color adds a liveliness and vitality to the pages, even when the characters are singing "I say get over it and she throws a shit fit" in regards to a dead baby.
Tiscione's art style is sparse, slightly cartoonish, and uses bold lines to combine into emotionally-charged visceral scenes. While she mainly sticks to a traditional panel layout, her use of occasional unorthodox panels, such as using a circle to show Trent's view of his parents while they discuss his eyes and a lack of panel edges during a talking heads segment which emphasizes a frenetic pace instead of typical broken up moments which comes with paneling, shows her immense talent and attention to her craft. One of the many advantages an original graphic novel has over a monthly comic series is its ability to let the story breathe. The use of black pages after a huge reveal hammers home the weight of the reveal, something that couldn't be done when a creator is stuck to a 20-page monthly structure.
The book's cast is small, showing its past as a play, and revolves around the couple of Doris and Bob, their neighbors Arnie and Lisa, Doris' parents, and Trent, the baby. Each cast member gets a musical number. Yes, even the baby, who gets his own ballad. The supporting cast plays their parts to further the plot, as the reader sees surprisingly different reactions to Trent's death from the neighbors and Doris' parents.
In the end, Trent is about being vulnerable, dealing with insecurity, and handling grief in life's darkest moments. So, the next time a friend asks you for a recommendation in the musical graphic novel about a family raising a dead baby genre, reach for Trent. But as the synopsis on the back of the book claims, it's probably not for you.