I have to start this review by admitting that I am not a massive Neil Young fan. I quite like his soundtrack for Dead Man which I occasionally stick on the stereo, but that is were my relationship with Neil Young starts and ends. I was vaguely aware of his 2003 eco-political concept album, Greendale, which he released in 2003. What I didn’t know is that the album also spawned a film, a book and the obligatory ‘interactive tour’… and now there is the Greendale graphic novel (Amazon UK), written by Joshua Dysart with art by Cliff Chiang.
It did occur to me that to properly review Greendale I should track down the album, listen to it on headphones while completing the interactive tour on my laptop with the live action film on mute on the telly in the background. All that seemed quite a task simply for preparation for reading a comic book so I decided not to give the album even a cursory listen. Instead I dived right into the comic book without any in-depth knowledge of Young’s project apart from an inkling that it would contain tree hugging and maybe a mild rant against George Bush. I expect the creators of this graphic novel wanted it to be consumed without the need for backstory and that it should work as a stand alone piece. So that is how I approached it.
The story concerns a teenage girl called Sun who lives in the small southern US town of Greendale. Sun is part of a linage of women who all have special powers over nature – the narrative tracks the awakening of these powers in Sun and also how her political beliefs mature over time – she defeats a kind of demon with her newly realized powers and ends up hitching to Alaska to protest about oil drilling and the war in Iraq. Along the way she finds out about her magical heritage and her ancestry. The demon Sun defeats bears a strong resemblance to Neil Young and after noticing this I ended up thinking that most of the male characters looked a bit like Neil Young, but that could be my mind playing tricks. The demon also reminded me a little of the preacher in Poltergeist 2, in the way he is initially seen by Sun from a distance walking through walls, and how the demon is only visible to certain people. In Suns dreams the demon becomes a giant goat-like creature and these dream passages are the most enjoyable as it seems like Chiang lets his imagination loose and the panels seem more free and full of energy.
The overall book design is well executed, my copy is a hardback with a rough matt finish without a dust jacket, which makes a nice change. The family tree pages have a retro ‘vintage’ feel to the layout and typography. I presume that these design decisions were to give the book an ageless quality and this concept seems to extend to the art – the colour is quite desaturated in that 1050’s style but Chiang’s art is very fresh and clean and for me didn’t quite carry over the vintage concept.
I always like to see the artists ‘hand’ in comic books, which might seem paradoxical, but there is a current style for comic art to look quite perfect – lines are beautifully rendered, colours have smooth gradients and there is the feel and influence of the computer to the work. I have always preferred to see the sketches behind the drawing, or a much more loose style of drawing in the style of Eddie Campbell, Ted McKeever or Vincent Paronnaud for example – but this is only my personal preference and there are some lovingly rendered panels in Greendale, particularly the dream sequences – you can see the artists hand at work in these panels which for me are the most successful.
While I was looking at the various incarnations of the Greendale project I was particularly taken with the album cover art for Greendale, a beautiful illustration in a very ‘folk’ style by American artist James Mazzeo. I have not gone completely off topic, the illustration appears in the inside cover of the comic book. Anyone interested in contemporary American folk art should check him out.
Greendale the graphic novel seems to be intended for a teenage audience, and the ‘coming of age’ sub plot combined with the ecological pro-active message fits that audience perfectly. Buy this comic book if you are young enough to have never heard of Neil Young.
Thanks to http://titanbooks.com for supplying a copy for review.
This review first appeared on bookgeeks.co.uk