Blue Monday: Painted Moon #1

By Chynna Clugston-Major
32 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

One of the most frustrating things about a long-running serial is when the characters don’t change. Sure, they might get a new outfit here and there, but there’s no character growth, no maturing over time. I think that’s why I was so enchanted by the first issue of Blue Monday: Painted Moon; as Chynna Clugston-Major’s teenagers get older, we’re seeing that with age is coming wisdom. Well, a tiny bit of wisdom at any rate.

Life stinks for Bleu Finnegan. It’s bad enough that her sometimes-friends, sometimes-enemies Alan and Victor videotaped her taking a bath… but now, despite all the sacrifices Bleu’s gone through, the tape made it onto to public access television. Her friend Clover’s trying to show Bleu that not all men stink… but maybe there really are no good available men left?

Reading Painted Moon #1, it struck me that as the girls go through their experiences (like the whole videotape fiasco in Absolute Beginners), they’re starting to learn. I’m not saying that suddenly the girls are wise in the ways of life (not quite!), but we’re seeing them evolve over time. Maybe it’s the hesitation Bleu has around Alan and Victor, maybe it’s the realization at the end of the issue regarding men in general, but they just seem a little wiser and a little sadder as time goes on. Fortunately, Painted Moon isn’t all doom and gloom. There’s still a lot of Clugston-Major’s screwball-comedy humor on display here, with Victor’s attempts at reconciliation going from bad to worse, or the typical “squiggly line” curses being commented on by Erin, or contrasted to the final page of the issue with its very different take on the Blue Monday cast cursing.

Long before chain bookstores suddenly fell in love with Asian artists, Clugston-Major was drawing her characters this way, and I’m glad to see that she’s proving to be just as talented as ever. I love the way she draws the cast, from Erin’s freckles to Victor’s lanky body. She’s got a real keen sense for fashion, with each character dressed in a way that reflects their character but without being blatant and in your face. Most importantly, Clugston-Major carries off strange little sound effects in the art like no one else I’ve seen. I’m not sure why but somehow seeing the word “shrug” next to Victor’s shoulders moving just works for me here. Maybe it’s the slight shift from Clugston-Major’s otherwise very real art style, with Pepsi machines and scruffy pants dominating the world. Maybe it’s just cute, like the rest of her art. Either way, I like it.

Blue Monday: Painted Moon #1 may kick off the fourth volume of Blue Monday, but I’m glad to say that it’s still easily accessible to both new and old readers alike. It’s an over-simplification to say that Blue Monday is an edgier Archie, but I do think it’s true that once aging readers want something with a little more meat than the Archie line but still want to read about high schoolers, well, look no further. Besides, we all know that Bleu and Clover could beat up Betty and Veronica any day. And if you haven’t read Blue Monday yet, well, with three collections already on sale there’s a lot of good times ahead of you once you’re done with Painted Moon.

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