Jun 14, 2012

Reviews: Neil Young's Greendale

A few months ago, thanks to the generosity of a good friend, I got a big box of comic books, on which I've been working at one book at a time. One of the first comics I picked up from that gigantic collection was NEIL YOUNG'S GREENDALE, a comic book treatment of Neil Young's 2005 concept album of the same name. Written by Joshua Dysart, drawn by Cliff Chiang, and colored by Dave Stewart, GREENDALE is set in 2003 and tells the story of Sun Green, an eighteen-year-old political activist who has a preternatural communion with nature. Women in the Green family have always been special, and from the start of the book, we're treated to a nice helping of magical realism as we immediately are made aware of some of Sun's unusual abilities, among them the ability to herd animals effortlessly and to climb any structure with the same ease.

When you turn to the first page of GREENDALE, you'll notice three things. First, you'll notice the muted coloring of Dave Stewart, which lends itself to the dreamlike atmosphere of the storyline.

This is aided in great part by the second thing you'll notice, which is the unique style of Cliff Chiang. Chiang uses a minimalist style with very thick outlines, which is a style I'm personally very fond of. The style itself really makes the story move as it has an animated quality that will guide you really easily from panel to panel, and Chiang is also a master of body language so the transitions are both smooth and yet subtle. It enables you to quickly discern the personalities of each character as well as the general feel and details of the setting (a town called — wait for it — Greendale) with very few lines.

And the third thing you will notice from the first page is the poetic prose style of Josh Dysart. This shouldn't take anyone by surprise if you know that it's based on a music album (and by Neil Young, no less). However, it would be so easy to work songs from an album and work it into a story and have it come off as rather stilted. In GREENDALE, until I listened to the album, I really couldn't tell which parts came from the album and which parts Dysart came up with on his own. There are legitimately beautiful and moving passages throughout the book, such as the following one which details the aftermath of the death of Sun's twin sister Luna, specifically their mother's reaction.

The story itself is full of magical realism — the kind that you may actually run into in everyday life. If you've ever experienced anything you may have encountered as "paranormal" or "strange," the kind that's farfetched but you're willing to believe, that's the kind that is in GREENDALE. It's just grounded enough that there's enough plausibility, that by the time anything really strange and too far out happens, you're already immersed into its world.

It's so easy to see GREENDALE as a political statement or liberal propaganda, as it is about a political activist. However, at the heart of it is Sun Green's journey and her coming of age. She goes from being a girl who believes in something to becoming one who stands up for those beliefs. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, you'd be able to relate to that.

Sun's character is so fully formed that I can imagine younger readers falling in love with her and wanting to hang out with her. Chiang brings her to life with a vibrant energy. Sun enjoys her life or attempts to, no matter how bad it gets.

This is true of all the characters. Sun's great uncle, for example, is only in it for two scenes. But the two scenes he's in just bring him to life for the reader, partly because you're not told very much about him. To me, that's always been more realistic, because you don't know everything about everyone you interact with. You see little facets of their personality, and sometimes they contradict each other. That's what happens here with the supporting cast of GREENDALE. They're minor touches, but they bring the characters to life.

At the heart of it all, GREENDALE is a simple story brought to life by a minimalist, animated art style with an appropriately muted color scheme and moving and well-crafted passages. Even if you don't lean politically to the Left, if you like coming-of-age stories, it is a book that I would highly recommend.

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