The GeeksverseREVIEW | Hopeless, Maine; Book One: Personal Demons HC (Archaia Entertainment)

REVIEW | Hopeless, Maine; Book One: Personal Demons HC (Archaia Entertainment)
Published on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 by
Tom and Nimue Brown’s long-running webcomic Hopeless, Maine finally gets the hardcover collection treatment courtesy of Archaia Entertainment and it is well worth the wait.

Key Review Points

Pros:

  • Well-considered story with effective, efficient dialogue.
  • Beautifully illustrated.
  • Features pages not seen in the original webcomic.

Cons:

  • None of significant note, although as is always the case with print editions of freely available webcomics, readers will have to weigh the premium cost and benefits of owning the physical volume against the option of reading its contents online.

Publication Details

  • Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
  • Publication Date: April 2012
  • Created and written by: Tom and Nimue Brown
  • Illustrated by: Tom Brown
  • Format: 128 page, full color, hardcover. Collects installments of the Hopeless, Maine webcomic published online from 2009 to 2010.
  • List Price: $19.95 (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
  • Availability: On sale on 14 November 2012 in comic book shops and on 27 November 2012 in bookstores.

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Full Review

Husband-and-wife team Tom and Nimue Brown’s Hopeless, Maine falls into what I would call as the “goth-twee” category. I don’t mean this as a pejorative mind you, but what the authors describe as a “gothic webcomic” deliberately blends the aesthetics associated with modern goth subculture with what could be called a “cute” sensibility and what are ultimately self-empowering attitudes in a manner similar but not identical to that employed by Ted Naifeh in his Courtney Crumrin books or Satomi Ikezawa in her Othello manga series. The combination of dark and moody imagery and an underlying positive sentiment seems like an odd fit on the surface, but it is precisely that contrast which gives the conjectural sub-genre its distinct appeal when executed right.

Personal Demons introduces readers to Salamandra, an orphan possessed of broad (if somewhat vague) elemental powers. With the aid of a kindly witch, she is taken in by a local orphanage where she has a hard time fitting in with the other children. A mysterious, nameless girl befriends her, but their relationship soon takes a more antagonistic aspect.

Beyond serving as a showcase for Salamandra’s occult adventures and the book’s enticing, stylized art, Personal Demons‘ primary conflict also works as a thoughtful metaphor about balancing self-respect with the need for companionship. Salamandra’s newfound friend offers amity—after a fashion—in new and strange surroundings but it is a relationship between unequals, where Salamandra increasingly finds herself on the receiving end of  taunts and passive-aggressive ridicule. It is also a relationship defined by selfish exclusivity that threatens to isolate her further from her peers. Salamandra  grows to recognize the toxic influence of this friendship-of-convenience, and the organic and unalloyed character growth exhibited by the character over the course of the book is quite refreshing to see in a medium where an adherence to established status quo motivated by any number of reasons mitigates lasting change in many ongoing titles.

The narrative follows an easy, contemplative pace buttressed by spare, efficient, but nonetheless artful dialogue and Tom Brown’s lavish, widescreen illustrations. Panels are often darkly lit to suit the book’s atmosphere, but the precisely rendered lines and the lush, painted storybook-like coloring show through consistently. Character designs, particularly that of the young protagonist and that of other characters in the same age range, are charming, but not cloyingly so.

As is always the case with print editions of freely available webcomics, potential readers will have to weigh the premium cost and benefits of owning the physical volume against the option of reading its contents online. The book’s quality artwork, thoughtful story, competitive pricing, and the inclusion of additional pages not seen in the original webcomic make it easy to advocate for the purchase of the physical product, but even those who balk at the idea of paying for something freely available on the Internet are strongly encouraged to seek out the online editionHopeless, Maine is a fine comic, “web-” or otherwise, and fans of the sequential art form would be doing themselves a disservice in overlooking the title given its availability both in print and online formats. Highly recommended.

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