There was a joke I used to hear, years back, between comic artists- The only way to guarantee success in indie comics was to do a sad autobiography or a comic about goth girls. The idea was meant to be more light humor than biting condemnation, but it was true that for a little while around the early '00s, the "sarcastic goth girl," was a staple cast member (if not main character) in a great deal of comics and cartoons. Now that so many teens have moved on to other subcultures, few of these characters still remain- chief among them in pop culture is, almost undoubtably, Emily the Strange. Predating the trendiness of the "sarcastic goth girl," character archetype, Emily began as a skateboard graphic and grew into a veritable icon with books, comics, merchandise, and music.
This new comic series, titled Emily and the Strangers: Breaking the Record, follows young Emily as she and her friends move towards getting their big break into music. Emily and her band pour over the fine-print of a contract, argue over the direction that the band should take, and are given a brief introduction to their record label. Doesn't sound very interesting, does it? It's not very, but to be honest, I found myself somewhat compelled by the book. At any given page I was feeling somewhat unimpressed, but when I reached the final page, I realized that I was actually yearning to read more. This gestalt is something I've encountered before, primarily in webcomics, and while I can't yet say that the rest of the series will remain compelling, the webcomics that have hooked me this way were able to keep my hooked for a long time.
Handled by writers Rob Reger (creator of the character) and Mariah Huehner, the story is definitely intended more for kids under ten then it is for teenagers or adults. As a story for kids it's generally quite readable, though, much of the satirical content (aimed squarely at the music industry) will go over most kids' heads. This is partly due to the fact that most kids aren't aware of corporate business practices and media manipulation, but also because the under-age-ten crowd was born in a post-Napster, post-iPod, "Everyone illegally downloads music," era where record companies aren't the powerhouses they once were.
In a way, it makes the main conflict of the plot seem sort of old fashioned- but then again, the bigger issue of corporate interference and control is something that transcends the music industry, and will ring true to older kids (and adults).
The art isn't particularly impressive, but it's not horrible either. Illustrator Cat Farris has a lot on her plate, handling all visual aspects of the book from layouts to color, but I can't necessarily lean on that as an excuse. When the book looks good, it looks like a still straight out of an animated series- which I consider to be quite successful. Unfortunately, the book sometimes struggles to maintain that quality throughout. Backgrounds particularly often feel quite rushed, and the characters go "off model," enough that I noticed. The designs are all nice, as are the expressions, and the color palette is on point, but all of those things don't make up for the inconsistent rendering.
Keep in mind that Emily & the Strangers is a kid's book, going into it. It's not a serious character-driven drama like Wet Moon, nor is it a gothic fantasy and satire like Gloomcookie, nor is it a manic splatter comedy like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Emily & the Strangers is a reasonably entertaining book appropriate for kids, with a large cast including several good female characters. Don't go into Breaking the Record #1 expecting to reclaim some nostalgia if you were a goth teen back in high school 10 years ago, but if you were that teen, this could be a comic you read with your own young children.
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