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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Nothing Better Volume One: No Place Like Home -- I'm somewhat astonished to realize it's been five years since I reviewed Tyler Page's first graphic novel. I still think of him as just getting started, but he's been busy working on his craft: Nothing Better Volume One is substantially better than Stylish Vittles, which was a fine debut in and of itself.

But in that debut volume, Page displayed some arty mannerisms that detracted from his storytelling. I still vividly remember the lengthy sequence that prompted me to write "a journey through the cosmos to arrive at the college after many, many pages is a bit much," but I also remember the pleasure I got from reading the book, which had me noting in the same sentence that "on the whole I found the novel engaging and irresistible."

So how has Page improved? He does still cover much of the same ground -- the tenuous connections formed in new relationships, grappling with young adulthood, and questions about the existence of God -- but his storytelling is far more direct. In Nothing Better, Page creates a variety of characters with a variety of beliefs and personalities, and at no time does he seem to favour one over the other. Jane and Katt are as different as two young women can be, but both of them are likable and appealing -- sexy, even -- but they are complex characters who can both delight and infuriate with their actions.

Page's exploration of early college life is flawlessly convincing, too. A moment when a character returns home and is shocked to learn her parents expect her to follow her high school curfew feels expertly observed, as do many other moments.

I am not a religious person, and I wondered when the book's intentions came into focus if it was going to turn me off. But Page plays completely fair with both his characters and their beliefs. One character, known as "Jesus Gene" to Katt, Jane's atheist roommate, seems creepily insistent on dogma over intelligent inquiry, but it's not like there are not people like that in real life. And other characters who do believe in one religious philosophy or another don't do so to the exclusion of every other element of their lives, just like most religious people. These aren't extremists, they're just people. They believe what they believe, and some of them ask questions, and all of them are growing up and finding their own way. Page's depiction of their journey is fun and compelling to read, and his characters are impossible not to root for. This first volume does not conclude their story, but it does have a very nice final sequence that leaves the reader both satisfied, and ready for more.

In fact, you can read more -- the three chapters that follow the events of Volume One, as well as all of Volume One -- are available for reading at Tyler Page's website.



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