New Thing Vol. 2: Secrets

Edited by Jim Higgins
100 pages, black and white
Published by new suit

In his opening essay for New Thing Vol. 2: Secrets, editor Jim Higgins talks about a lack of strong stories in comics. It’s a brave opening gambit, because doing so then asks the reader to decide for themselves: is the writing in Secrets as strong as Higgins claims it will be?

The volume wisely opens with June K.’s “B-612”, as two friends prepare to separate as one of them moves to Paris. “B-612” has everything you can want in a comics anthology piece; sharp art and a strong, memorable story. “B-612″‘s art is crisp and clear, as if Optic Nerve‘s Adrian Tomine art was looser and more confident to break free from its exact confines. The characters of Emily and Nara tell as much of their story through their postures and expressions as their dialogue, and as the story draws to a conclusion, K. has expressed their lives to us so well that what would otherwise seem to be nonsensical instead seems completely understandable and logical. It’s easily the strongest story in Secrets, and for it alone it’s worth the price of admission.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the very next story in Secrets is Shannon Brady’s adaptation of “Bluebeard”, which automatically would look weak by its near proximity to “B-612”. Brady’s pages are created in an older, ornate style that brings to mind a world where the Arabian lands were full of adventures, dashing heroes, and skulking villains. Brady’s art is enjoyable to view with its full-page illustrations that both work as a single piece of art as well individual panels, which makes it all the more unfortunate that there’s a real lack of suspense here. The story of Bluebeard and his mysterious missing wives should be creepy and slowly build in horror, but Brady rushes through the entire saga in just eight pages. As a showcase for Brady’s art, “Bluebeard” works, but as an actual story it seems to fall woefully short of its mark.

If “Bluebeard” is too short, then editor Higgins and artist Jim Campbell do the reverse by overstaying their welcome during “Will You Forget Me?”‘s eighteen pages. Campbell’s art works well with its use of graytones and simplistic-yet-expressive art that brings to mind some of the artists from the Actus Group comic collective. The big problem is that Higgins’s story of two people who can’t remember their past starts out intriguing, but then is weighted down by an overly long second half. Higgins spends too much time leading the reader on when they’ve already figured out what’s really happening, and the four pages of exposition at the end are really unnecessary. Higgins should’ve had more confidence in his readers as well as his own writing skills and avoided the long explanation at the end; like “B-612”, everything you needed to know was already in the story, and the “here’s what happened” ending turns a great story into merely a good one.

Secrets features the return of Katia Tukiainen (who was also in New Suit Vol. 1: Identity) and I must admit I find myself wondering once more how Tukiainen ended up in the anthology. Her stories are hard on the eyes, with some of the most difficult lettering to read in comics. “Secret” is more of a struggle than a pleasure to read, and her art in black and white just doesn’t seem to work at all. Her color cover makes me think that her real strength is in her color choices of her paintings, not in her storytelling or her attempts to work in black and white. Most importantly, it seems to be a complete step away from Higgins’s talk of needing stronger stories in his introduction; it falls prey to exactly the weaknesses he identifies from other anthologies with the lack of a strong narrative, and failing to come to a climax by merely stopping in place at the end. “Secret”‘s inclusion in Secrets exposes its weaknesses by Higgins’s alerting the reader in advance about these sorts of problems.

It’s a relief to have Jeff LeVine’s “I Know When To Keep My Mouth Shut…” next in Secrets; his lyrical, almost poetry-like narration over his visuals makes this almost as strong as K.’s “B-612” earlier in the anthology. It’s fascinating to look at LeVine’s narration and illustrations as two separate entities, both of which can stand on their own as a story that you can follow. It’s when the two unite that you get the full effect, the two working with each other to bring ideas and thoughts into the greater whole. LeVine’s character study of a stressful relationship is intriguing and makes you want to see so much more about these two people, but wisely draws things to a close at just the right moment.

Rounding out the book is Dash Shaw’s “Wino Forever”, which plays with story structure in a piece about a love affair with a well-known actress on the set of her new movie. As Shaw annotates his story with additional information, asks people to turn to different pages depending on how they view words, and apologizes for weaknesses in the art, his approach to telling a comic feels awkward and forced. The sudden editorial comments and commands throw you out of the story, making you pay more attention to the way the story was put together than its actual content. If you go back through and strip out the extraneous material by Shaw, you end up with a well-drawn story about someone hesitant in love. The story actually printed, though, waters itself down into a bit of a mess that just shows a glimmer of its original potential.

Ultimately, I think that New Thing Vol. 2: Secrets is a success, but by no means a complete one. “B-612” and “I Know When To Keep My Mouth Shut…” are by far the main reasons to pick up the anthology; a collection with these two short stories alone is in many ways a victory. From there its a sliding scale, with the good-but-flawed entries of “Will You Forget Me?” and “Bluebeard”, and to a lesser degree “Wino Forever”. It’s a little ironic that Higgins’s essay that opened the anthology is some ways stronger than those last three stories, but it certainly helps leave you with a good impression about Higgins’s work as the editor of the book. Secrets may not always hit the mark, but it certainly is trying.

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