Family Reunion

Written by Sean Stewart
Art by Steve Lieber
8 pages, black and white
Distributed by Small Beer Press

I’d heard of Sean Stewart’s novels before Family Reunion came across my desk, but I must admit that I’ve never actually read them. I’d heard rave reviews for Mockingbird and Galveston, but like so many other books they were in a little mental file I like to call “I really should get around to this one of these days.” But then Stewart wrote Family Reunion, an 8-page comic illustrated by Steve Lieber that ties into Stewart’s new novel Perfect Circle. And the result? Well, let’s just say that two weeks later I had a copy of Perfect Circle in my hot little hands.

William “Dead” Kennedy can see ghosts. Not the movie-style amorphous white shapes that moan and wail, but actual spirits of people who have died, wandering the Earth. This is a less-than-attractive ability for anyone to have to begin with, but Will’s got something that makes it even worse. It’s something known as a family reunion in Houston, Texas. There’s never a shortage of ghosts at a Texas family reunion, after all.

Stewart only has eight pages in Family Reunion to showcase his characters, but it surprised me just how much I knew about Will and the rest of his clan in such a short period of time. Will’s a protagonist who certainly means well, but whom others might call a bit of a sap. He never seems to really know exactly what he’s doing, even as he cheerfully gives the latest update on his personal life since the last family reunion (“Fired: Two. Laid: Zero.”) or helps move an icebox containing banana pudding. What he does have for him, though, is a streak of positiveness. He might be able to deal with the larger things in life and death, both for him and others, but he can accomplish small victories. And at a family reunion, sometimes that’s all you can really shoot for. We also get a good look at Travis, Will’s cousin who is haunting this particular family reunion. Even as we hear stories of Travis and how the other family members viewed him, we get a look at what his life before death was really like, and what sort of man he is. It’s a strong portrait of a character, here, and by the time Family Reunion was over I found myself wishing that there was more.

Lieber’s art has continued to strengthen over the years, and Family Reunion is really no exception. Lieber does a great job of drawing the human figure, able to make this group of people both look diverse as well as like a real gathering of family members. Will’s facial expressions here tell a lot of the story, from befuddlement to pity and all points in-between. Lieber’s as much of a storyteller here as Stewart is, letting the art carry so much of the action. Likewise, Lieber’s drawings of Travis’s life do a good job of contrasting with the family stories, showing us what really happened once you strip away the words and examine only the actions on display. It’s a good way to tell the story, giving us a lot of information about perception and reality in a very short time. Last but not least, Lieber uses a nice visual effect when it comes to Will’s dealings with Travis, letting the rest of the world fade to gray every time Will’s attention is on the ghost. It’s a quick way for the reader to instantly tell whenever Will’s attention is on the dead instead of the living, as well as being an insight into just how Will’s mind processes the living world in comparison to the dead. It’s a nice look to Family Reunion, and it completes an otherwise already impressive package.

I think it really says a lot that Family Reunion‘s eight pages impressed me a lot more than many other 32- and 48-page books published at the same time. It’s short and sweet, but it also left an impression on me that I won’t quickly forget. In the end, a real testament to Family Reunion is that I ended up putting aside other books that I should’ve been reading to devour the pages of Perfect Circle. You know what? I can’t believe this is the first Stewart novel I’ve finally gotten around to reading. It’s incredibly good, and I’m going to have to track down Stewart’s other books immediately. You can buy Family Reunion directly from artist Steve Lieber at his website (although I wholeheartedly recommend going for the $2 option where you also get a copy of his Me and Edith Head comic as well). When you’re done, you’ll probably want to buy Perfect Circle too. Don’t worry, there’s a link here to buy that as well. Family Reunion‘s so good I know you’ll be wanting more.

Purchase Links (Perfect Circle):

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