Monday, November 10, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2014: Will & Whit

Will & Whit
Written and illustrated by Laura Lee Gulledge
Published by Amulet (2013)

I read a lot of comics, but what I tend to read are comics put out by traditional comic shop publishers (e.g. Dark Horse, etc.). Sure, there are exceptions, but for the most part I'm not super aware of what's being put out by book publishers, and I'm especially unaware of things put out by book publishers and aimed at teenage girls. (Which is kind of why these YALSA lists are great! Exposing me to new comics is always good.)

Will & Whit is about Wilhelmina, a 17-year-old girl who lives in a small town, has "an old-fashioned soul", and wants an "unplugged summer" vacation. Now, if I was reading this as the blurb on a novel I probably would have given up already, as I clearly have no time for stories where the main character isn't a robot or wants to be a robot.

Will's parents died a year ago and she's been living with her aunt and trying to deal with things since then. She helps out at the antique store her aunt owns, and makes lamps (this seems kind of weird). Will a massive storm and/or a group of teens who are starting a carnival style art show help Will deal with her emotions? More than likely as there wouldn't be a story if they didn't.

This comic is fine, but in a lot of ways it just seems really generic. Teens feel isolated, teens are all super creative, technology doesn't help us interact with each other, etc. However, I'm not a teenager, am (hopefully) more okay with being who I am than many of them, and have read more books about being isolated and alone than they have. My issues are not really with the quality of the book, just that I've read other stuff with the same feel before. ("Then why do you read superhero comics that are all pretty much the same?" you ask while I try to change the subject.)

However, I do have a major problem with the art in this book: the two main male characters look (and act) more or less identical. They're both straight white teenagers with who dress pretty similarly (you could swap their clothes and never know) and have unspoken crushes on girls. Okay, so their noses are drawn a little differently, and the book is in black and white so the lack of colour limits how you can tell characters apart, but  I'm pretty sure their hair is even parted on the same side. The story could have made them twins and I would have believed it. Gulledge is capable of drawing females who both look and dress differently, and there's another male character who is distinguishable from other people, but she totally fails on this count. Make one of these guys goth or black (or both!) or _anything_.

This brings to light another problem with this (and many other books). Yes there are supporting characters who aren't white (hurray), but they aren't really driving the story forward. In this case the main character (or their love interest) could easily be non-white, but they aren't. I don't usually complain about this sort of thing (white is frequently the default...), and this isn't really aimed at this book specifically, but representation of minorities in fiction (and not just in supporting roles) is something that should be discussed pretty much always.

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