Ninety Candles

By Neil Kleid
48 pages, black and white
Published by Rant Comics

A strong hook is always good for getting a reader’s attention. Something different, something experimental, something to make it stand out from the crowd. That’s certainly present in Neil Kleid’s Ninety Candles, a comic where each panel is the next year in his protagonist’s life. The question is, once Kleid has the reader’s attention, can he keep it?

Kevin Hall seemed destined to be an artist from an early age. Forever interested in comics and pencils over footballs and schoolwork, his entire life seems to be driven towards working in the comics industry. As Kevin experiences more of the business of comics, though, will his choices with his career bring him happiness or misery?

It’s hard to ignore that Ninety Candles‘s early segments are, in many ways, a thinly veiled autobiography by Kleid. To be honest, that’s both a good and a bad thing. It works in the advantage of Ninety Candles that Kleid’s able to really bring across the emotions of both success and failure to the reader in an almost crystal-clear manner, letting everyone know just exactly how he feels. At the same time, though, it’s hard to read a book where the creator has mapped out his own future life, with each tremendous success coming across as wishful thinking (creating a hit comic book character, winning an Eisner Award, and so on), despite the negatives that do crop up. It’s this mixed success and failure of Ninety Candles that also shows itself in the format Kleid used, with one panel equalling one year. It certainly provides a solid progression through Kevin Hall’s life, and many segments of Ninety Candles follow this passage of time perfectly. Conversely, though, there are parts where the “one panel = one year” rule is not followed, and it makes it somewhat jarring for the reader because what theoretically has a year passing seems to really only have a couple of days at most. I understand that for Kleid’s story he felt it was necessary to break the rule, but by doing so he also has to understand that it throws the reader temporarily out of the story, and I’m not entirely sure that it was worth doing so. (Personally, if he felt the need to break the rule then he should have taken the numbering of years off of each panel, and also not so clearly defined the format in his foreword.)

The art of Ninety Candles is a simple, iconic design that works well for the book. With each panel, Kleid draws Kevin Hall as a slightly older (if not necessarily wiser) person, and it’s nice to see a real passage of time on his character’s features. It’s always recognizably him, with a slightly vacant gaze and rounded features. I like how Kleid is able to subtilely tweak Kevin’s face so just the slightest change changes him from sullen to bewildered, or anything else that Kleid’s story calls for. Using a green ink instead of black with the art is also a nice touch, giving Ninety Candles an almost nostalgic air about it, setting it apart from a stark black and white look.

Like the protagonist’s life, Ninety Candles has both its positives and negatives. The negatives keep me from whole-heartedly pushing it as a complete success, but the positives make me glad that I read it. Hopefully Kleid’s next graphic novel will hit all of its marks, but the successes here are enough that I will definitely want to read that next project when it’s published.

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