Vagabonds #1

By Josh Neufeld
24 pages, green and white
Published by Alternative Comics

Josh Neufeld’s travel stories have caught my attention ever since they first appeared in Keyhole years ago. Neufeld and his then-girlfriend (now wife) backpacked through large stretches of southeast Asia, and the resulting adventures have appeared in comic stories since then. With The Vagabonds, Neufeld has his own solo book to both reprint and hopefully present new stories about his adventures in both foreign lands and those places a little closer to home…

Neufeld’s opening story about traveling to a festival in Thailand is easily my most favorite entry in the book. Neufeld’s able to display his culture shock in a way that isn’t demeaning to the Thai people, and there’s a great contrast presented between his and Sari’s impressions of Thailand with those of the Baptist missionaries that they’re forced to stay with. It really shows just how differently people will react to situations, without whitewashing Neufeld and Sari’s own actions.

That’s not to say that the rest of the stories aren’t good, mind you. “From the Asylum” is a hysterical little two-pager that has Neufeld unabashedly display an obsessive-compulsive list-making part of his teen years, almost as if daring his readers to claim that they didn’t do something similar in their lives. While it lacks a decisive ending, it’s certainly fun. “I Left My Name in San Francisco”, on the other hand, more than makes up for the previous story’s ending, as Neufeld and Sari puzzle through an old acquaintance’s sudden change in name. It’s a fun mystery that Neufeld sets up and then just as quickly resolved, with a sudden shift so unexpected you can’t help but believe it, as the story (like life) defies your expectations.

Neufeld closes out The Vagabonds #1 with “Song for September 11th”, which takes Neufeld back to his home city with the lyrics to “New York, New York” moving on in the background. After Neufeld’s travels around the world left him (mostly) unfazed and calm, seeing his near-breakdown here says more about his reaction to that traumatic day than seeing the story on its own ever could.

Neufeld’s art in The Vagabonds has a nice, clean, stripped down style. He compares it to famed Tintin artist Hergé in one of the stories here, and one can certainly see some similarities. Neufeld’s stories operate on a very human level, and his art reflects that with its careful depictions of people from different cultures and backgrounds. It helps bring the full package together, making The Vagabonds #1 a satisfying trip around the world for the reader, without ever leaving the comfort of their couch. As soon as Neufeld wants to take us on another journey, I’ll be reserving my seat.

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