A few weeks ago I met up with Emily Wernet at Oslo and we discussed her artwork over a coffee on one of the first nice days of the year.
"My main comic influences are The Hernandez Brothers, Johann Sfar, Gipi, Esther Pearl Watson, Tezuka, Jamie Hewlett. For more mainstream influences I've always been an X-Men fan and a fan of David Mack, and anything by Grant Morrison. As for influences outside of comics; for writing I'm into Margaret Atwood; movies I like Tarkovsky, and Kurosawa; and more traditional influences I'm into Klimt and Munch."
I first met Emily at King Con held in Brooklyn this past November. As the con was wrapping up, this punky, blonde-mohawked girl came by the table to drop off her flyer for the new comic she was going start serializing on her livejournal site.
True to her word, she has posted up 22 pages of her comic MOONLIGHTING over the last few months and it looks gorgeous. But we'll come back to the comic and do a proper review in a minute. For now, a bit more about Emily Wernet.
She's just graduated from the School of Visual Arts, she's from Cinncinati, Ohio and currently resides in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Her favorite comics before Moonlighting were a series of anthropomorphic/autobiographical stories, occasionally starring her Grandma, some of which you can see on her site. She's worked at Cosmic Comics on 23rd Street, interned for Teshkeel Comics (the 99), and would love to have her work published by First Second. Oh, and she's an old school Trekkie.
So, after getting to know Emily a bit more, and seeing more of her artwork, I knew this was a cartoonist to watch out for. She's crazy talented, and just has a depth to her work that some artists twice her age will never achieve. It's fun, cartoony, well-designed, and her personality really shines through the work. I don't know about you, but when I saw her art I wanted to get to know her better, which I think is the draw of indie comic artists, you get a sense of connection with them, usually through the autobiographical comics they produce.
But Moonlighting isn't autobiographical (though I could picture Emily fighting monsters in suburbia), it's a straight up superhero comic, with an indie comic twist.
First, I just love the stark orange cover. The Lady Comics company logo with the sketchy dude, issue number, and price, all markings of a comic book in the grand tradition of the big two. And I love that logo, the design to the lettering of Moonlighting with the mask floating above it. It just really works. And as far as action on the cover, we've got a caped crusader hurling a brick at the main character's head. From the awkward pose of the heroine to the near cut off of the main girl, this is definitely going to be a bizarre take on the superhero idea. Toss in some street signs, a few houses, and a radio tower and you've got the setting for this delicious little tale. Let's begin.
(Also of note is the binding, which is a little string tied in a knot looped through the pages, and this has held up better than some staples and glue has in my carting back and forth of comics and books to and from work.)
After a simple and lovely title page, we jump into the story. Nighttime, orange, white & black playing across the page in staggered panels, our heroine is introduced as a non-speaking (except in pictograms) do-gooder who helps little old ladies across the street and enjoys corn dogs.
The art goes through the gamut here, from typical indy book look, to design heavy, break the panel borders sound effects, to fun sequential art gags. Everything seems very well planned out and each moment really leads you to the next in a very natural, organic way.
She's got a great minimalist design, a classic superheroine with a realistic female build, and between her visual exclamations and her amazingly awkward flying poses, she can't help but charm you right from the get-go. Just look how cute...
You can also check out Arcanalogue's interpretation of the heroine as the Princess of Cups.
After those first two pages we swap over to the real main character of the book, Billy. Just an average High Schooler who likes Johnny Cash and hates her classmates, gets pestered by her mom to pick her up some booze, with a boyfriend who wants to either break up with her or get her into a threesome. She's bored with the monotony of suburban life.
We switch to a blue coloring scheme to place us in reality, and the shade of blue (and orange) is brilliant. It's soothing, calming, and used in just the right places so as to accent and punctuate certain storytelling elements. The coloring is something she has said she got critiqued about, but that most people who read it love it, and I am one of those who love it. It's almost a character in itself. Wait, monsters? Yep, mixing in Emily's love of Cryptozoological creatures, this little comic takes it up a notch. The Montauk Monster (yeah Long Island) begins to plague the town and our heroine is just the gal to take him down. I love that there's a brief little caption at the end of the book that explains the monster of the issue.
Unlike most comics, well superhero ones, the action isn't the real draw though. The interactions of Billy & Neil (her 'stupid band' boyfriend), Billy's alcoholic mother, Aaron her new gay friend, these are the moments which really work to develop her as a character. And the art and design in the scenes where she faces the conflict in herself are truly inspired.The story works flawlessly as a metaphor for teenage angst blossoming into self-empowerment. It feels familiar without being at all cliche. More like it breathes new life into a stale format. There's a few moments here and there that are original and quirky and wonderfully fun. The characters don't act like cookie cutter stereotypes, sometimes they act like jerks and it feels honest.
This is a comic to track down and get, or check out on her site. I have #12 of the limited run of 25, but she promises a second printing is in the works (I cut her a break since she did create this bad boy while graduating college), so you'll be able to pick it up at your local mini-comic friendly comic store or from her directly. If you love indy books, get it. If you love superhero comics, get it. You'll like it no matter what. And you'll be seeing more of Ms. Emily Wernet, I guarantee. And when she's big and famous I'll just have one thing to say...