Strangetown #1

Written by Chynna Clugston and Ian Shaughnessy
Art by Chynna Clugston
32 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

Over time I’ve learned that with a new Chynna Clugston comic, there are three things I should prepare for: memorable characters, slick art, and the unexpected. With her new book Strangetown (with co-writer Ian Shaughnessy), it’s nice to see that all my expectations were met—including that one about the unexpected.

When Vanora traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, it was in the midst of a series of unexplained incidents in another country. Washing up on the shore after getting pulled off of the boat in a storm, Vanora had nothing to her name but the kindness of a stranger that took her in. Now, a decade later, Vanora has to find a new home in the town of Grangeton (or “Strangetown” as the residents call it). What she’ll find waiting for her there, though, might prove to be more than she can handle.

Despite my earlier comment that I had to learn to expect the unexpected with comics by Clugston, I have to give her credit in that once again, she got me. The tense opening of Vanora being forced to flee the country was a strong way to kick off Strangetown, a memorable beginning to sit in the back of the reader’s mind as they watched Vanora struggle to fit in America. What I didn’t see coming was that those events would already be coming back to haunt Vanora in Grangeton. It’s a smart move on Clugston and Shaughnessy’s part, making the opening instantly more relevant and showing that it’s not something that’s going to be forgotten or ignored. At the same time, there’s a nice sense of humor to balance out the drama of Strangetown, thanks to the off-beat supporting cast. What impressed me wasn’t so much each character on their own, but rather their interactions with each other. I was a little dubious as each one was introduced initially, but I was sold once they were all down at the dinner table and they all really came to life. They’ll certainly be keeping the book lively even as Vanora’s story continues to unfold. (I’m also impressed in that for the first time I remember Clugston working with a co-writer, I honestly can’t tell the difference; Shaughnessy’s style clearly melds with Clugston’s quite well.)

Clugston’s art is unsurprisingly as slick and polished as ever. Clugston’s always been good about making her characters look like real people and that’s no different here. There’s something about the art in Strangetown that feels different, although I can’t entirely put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the good usage of grey tones, but everything just seems crisper and sharper than on her earlier projects. Whatever the reason, I certainly won’t complain. The art moves smoothly throughout Strangetown, and I really like the usage of body language to help tell the story. Just watching Parker as she brings Vanora on a tour of her new home is fun, her posture and facial expressions showing everything from frustration to welcoming to excitement. It really brings the story to life in a way that just straight prose never can.

Strangetown #1 is a nice start to Clugston and Shaughnessy’s new series; there’s a lot of seeds for future stories already planted, and what we’ve got on deck even right now is a lot of fun. I must admit that I was a tiny bit worried about seeing a new Clugston series debuting when I was hoping for more Blue Monday or Queen Bee, but having Strangetown added to the mix isn’t a bad thing at all. Definitely recommended.

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