Friday, September 30, 2011

School: A Ghost Story -- Issues #1-4 (2005-07)

That's right, mine is signed.  Totally worth it being $6 more than what I could get it for now.
     I met Brian Defferding – the man behind School: A Ghost Story – at Flashback Weekend 2009, a local horror convention.  We talked for a good while, bonding over how incompetent SuperValue is when it comes to managing their supermarkets.  That doesn't really have anything to do with his self-published comic; to be fair I was really at that convention so I could talk to Canadian actress Katharine Isabelle.  Still, I like to think that as someone who has largely wasted whatever creative talent I may have had, I owe it to those who have the follow through and gumption to actually put a product together.  So I picked up the collected first four issues of School.
     There is much about School that identifies it as a product of a new writer – and one that is operating without an editor.  The four issues that make up the book span more than 140 pages but do little more than introduce the elements of the story.  Yes, there is clearly an involved logic to the ghost world in which Defferding sets the tale, but the story gets derailed for most of an issue just hinting at the particulars of what it means to be an enduring spirit.  This is mildly frustrating for me, as I think that the central story is the more compelling one.  Defferding knows he has a finite story with School, but seems to want to stretch it out longer than it needs to be.
Lindsay telling the reader of how she came to be a spirit at the school.

     At its heart, School is about a dead little girl – well, 12 year old adolescent girl named Lindsay Buckner – who has some anger issues predating her vicious murder.  She is drawn to a brand new school peopled with her old classmates and feels that the answer to the mystery of her killing must be there.  There are things that eat ghosts that also lurk in the school, and these provide a needed sense of danger.  Lindsay gets sidetracked dealing with her new world and remembering her past, which does give some flavor but also reduces the tension and suspense the story would have otherwise.
     I have noted previously on this blog, I have a severe lack of artistic training/talent/ability.  Nearly everyone who has ever purchased a sketch pad can out art me any day of the week.  I just want to put that qualifier out there before I start criticizing the look of School
There is something inherently creepy about the Have a Nice Day faces this trio of strangers wear.  Couple that with the black robes and a staff – or bedpost – and they have an aura of surreal menace. 
     The one thing I really want from a comic book or graphic novel is some degree of consistency when it comes to how the characters look and act.  Solid, planned writing can handle the latter with little problem.  I honestly don't know what it takes to accomplish the former, but it is not present in great quantities here.  Some of the differences can be explained with the fever dream aspects of the world of the ghosts.  But I think it is much more likely that Defferding did not allow himself the time necessary to complete each illustration at a high level.  His relative inexperience no doubt played a role as well.  This is not to say that there are not some outstanding panels in School, because there are.  They just are too frequently contrasted by entire pages that look rushed.  Defferding's style lies somewhere between mid-range scratchboard art and sharpie art.  When it works, it is good.  When it doesn't, it isn't horrible, but doesn't look professional.
I like the writing.  Defferding has no problem letting his elementary school girls curse at one another, and that feels both realistic and gives some real insight to the story.  On the other hand, there are some weak panels on this page when it comes to the art.
     For the criticism I have written, I still think School is a worthwhile title.  And not just because I believe in supporting indy projects.  There is the beginning of a good story in the first four issues, and if enough people start buying it, Defferding may eventually finish it.  The collected first four issues are available for $12 from Deftoons. The massive 96 page issue #5 is available for $10.  Both of those prices are less than what it cost me to pick up my copy, but then again mine is signed.  And Defferding had to talk to me for an extended period of time, so he earned his money from me.

1 comment:

  1. That art style was seriously eye-catching for me, just because I usually don't see stuff like that, unique! I think it adds to the writing, a lot.