Nate Powell is probably the greatest young cartoonist at work today who hasn't yet produced a really great comic book. His newest, Any Empire, is a beautiful, thick book soaked in Powell's beautiful ink. His artwork is alive with little splinters of fine lines, indicating shading and movement. Sometimes he goes minimalist, and the white of the page soaks back through, leaving a single mundane element—an airplane hovering in the sky, a TV dinner floating in space—as the focus of our attention. What Powell is most interested in with Any Empire is children and war. Specifically, the cruelty they inflict on each other and their toy soldiers. Later in the book, the three main characters become adults and tanks and parachuting soldiers show up in the middle of suburbia. It looks a little like Red Dawn, but with way more of that Symbolism! kind of symbolism. It never veers into schmaltz, but it never gains coherence, either. Sure is purty, though.
The protagonists of Ludovic Debeurme's comic Lucille are teenagers, but they're really still children. Lucille is an anorexic; Arthur loves her. As they make their first fumblings toward sex, Lucille informs him that anorexics don't get periods—she speaks as though anorexics are their own species, somehow, and she's the ambassador to humanity, trying to explain things. The characters are fucked up, but not melodramatically. They know they're fucked up and sometimes, when they're feeling hopeful, they want to be less fucked up. There's a lot of sudden, surprising violence in Lucille (and maybe in Lucille) but there's a lot of heart, too. I wasn't especially fond of Debeurme's light, sketchpad art style—some of the panels feel so unrooted that you could almost sweep them away with the side of your hand—but the story is solid and heartbreaking and it just feels true.
What does it say about the world that I read all of Mike Dawson's Troop 142, a comic book about a Boy Scouts-like troop of kids in the wilderness, while dreading an inevitable child molestation scene? Let me do you a kindness and assure you that that scene never occurs in this book. That's not to say that there's not some dark stuff here—it's a realistic story of a bunch of boys and men in the wilderness, so of course violence and homophobia have to happen. But a surprising amount of Troop 142 is about the thrills and quiet disappointments of heading out into the woods on your own for the first time and seeing that it's not as hard—or, really as exciting—as you thought it would be. Dawson's detailed, cartoony style is just about perfect for this kind of story, and his pacing is exquisite. It's a yearning indie movie of a comic book, and it will linger with you for a good long while.