Page 45 Review by Stephen
Two thoroughly contemporary dramas starring young women handling life in the Big Apple with varying degrees of self-awareness, self-discipline and self-confidence.
There's a lot of new back-up material including full-colour paintings of the cast, like Ren in a comic shop - that one is so warm and detailed! - and this hefty edition collecting both the original NEW YORK FOUR and THE NEW YORK FIVE is incredible value for money!
As you might expect from the creators of LOCAL this as much about location as those inhabiting it. Kelly proved he could nail so many different urban environments as that series sailed across the States, and evoke their unique ambience as well as physical architecture. Here he fills every single page with hair whose weight and body you can almost hold, masonry you could lean on and gusts of wind and snow in the parks that you can feel against your cheek.
Riley is a resident of Park Slope ("NY 101: As good as Brooklyn gets.") who's just joined New York University with all the potential that offers in terms of new friends and is getting back in touch with Angie, her black sheep of a sister ostracised by her overbearing parents some years ago for crimes unknown - being far too much fun, by the looks of it. That shouldn't happen to Riley: she's a top-grade student, but her sister's more worried about Riley's addiction to texting.
She's not wrong, either: Riley's no dweeb by any stretch of the imagination, but her journeys are made to an iPod soundtrack and her social life is virtually all virtual, interrupting even the most personal or important conversations to answer messages that could so easily wait. She's insular to say the least, and she only meets her three new friends by accident through the need for employment and somewhere to live outside campus dorms.
Angie introduces Riley to adult social life in the form of gigs and with the aid of her warm, cool and gregarious boyfriend. And it's at one of these gigs, the night of Riley's life, that someone there slips an email address into her pocket, at which point the texts really begin to fly much to the annoyance of anyone trying to get a real-world word in edgeways. As well as the bizarre priority Riley gives to someone she doesn't know over those she should be caring about, there's also the very real worry that Riley has no idea who she's in communication with - an imbalance of power over which she has no control.
Do you think it will all go horribly wrong? It all goes horribly wrong.
I now issue a very rare SPOILER ALERT for the much longer, more substantial sequel hinges on who Riley's mysterious admirer was.
By now Angie Wilder has her own band which has just struck it big on the gig circuit. But she still has her boyfriend called Frank who is anything but: he anonymously seduced her younger sister Riley by text. Angie's no longer speaking to Riley, Riley isn't speaking to Frank, but Frank hasn't done using Angie to speak to Riley as the first chapter's cliffhanger makes clear.
Riley's attending NYU with Merissa, Lona and Ren who all share an East Village flat roughly the size of a cupboard, their rent paid through part-time jobs evaluating PSAT/SAT tests. For this they need to undergo casual therapy sessions but the beautiful, outgoing Marissa's stopped attending. In fact she seems to be spending an awful lot of time going back home to Queens. Lona's less outgoing but still going out, if only to stalk her professor. We're talking the breaking-and-entering end of stalking, dumpster-diving for dirt, and her boyfriend's unimpressed. I really don't know what Ren's problem is. She doesn't seem to have one right now. She likes older men. Is that a problem?
Here the ever-exceptional spirit of place comes in the form of civic parks in winter, the city skylines at night and the chunky tenements with street-level steps rising up to their doors. The gigs are perfectly populated while the pavement outside is teeming with individuals hanging out on bikes, checking their bags or checking out each other. You can tell when an artist is trying to avoid drawing something; I couldn't find a single instance of that here. Even the iron fire escapes and scaffolding have been lavished with so much attention that they have as much weight and character as the pedestrians passing them by. When you stop to take in just how many cityscapes there are on top of that
Someone was on their way to New York the other day, and she asked if we had any comics that would act as a good guide. This would make the perfect guide, dotted as it is with insider titbits on every location featured including The Strand (used book shop), Washington Square, the Ukrainian diner Veselka, and St. Mark's Place in The East Village:
"NY 101: St. Mark's Place, as iconic and compelling as SF's Haight Astbury, this enduring hang-out block is way more seedy and has much cooler rock and roll roots. But, in the end, both succumbed to The Gap. This author's most-missed: the St. Mark's Cinema."
As seen in LOCAL, for me this is what Brian Wood does best: compelling and thoroughly contemporary straight fiction with a young cast of real individuals - females with foibles, individuals with issues - gradually revealing bits of themselves as they contemplate, hesitate or override their better instincts. Because coming back to that cliffhanger, it really is one of those, "Noooo, don't do it!" moments.