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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The New York Four

Story: Brian Wood 
Art: Ryan Kelly
Publisher: MINX (DC Comics)

What’s it about?
“New York City – It awes me into silence sometimes. And it makes me want to shout out at the top of my lungs. Is there any place better?”

The New York Four is a black & white 2008 comic from acclaimed DMZ-writer Brian Wood aimed at young adults, with Ryan Kelly on the artwork. It was originally a digest-sized graphic novel released through Minx, a line published through DC Comics.

The book doesn't just simply revolve around a strong female lead character, but four of them! Each with their own short narratives woven through the book.

The New York Four is about these four young women that are starting their freshman year at the New York University. They all left their homes and family behind, looking for the freedom you get living in NYC.

As the story opens we meet Riley Wilder. Most of the book is seen through her eyes. Riley's pretty shy, always get straight As and spends all her time on her cell phone, only speaking to all her "friends" she met at parties through it. Her and a couple of friends are kind of short on money, so they decide to share an apartment outside the campus together.

There's Lona Lo, a gal who likes keeping tabs on everyone and kind of comes off as a stalker at times. Ren Severin who's more interested in these older guys and hanging out with other peoples than her classmates. And finally Merissa Vasquez, who's having some troubles with her grades...

One day Riley gets to reconnect with this older sister, Angie, who ran away from home much to her parents' chagrin. Riley never really knew her much before, and she finds her back that year of college!

There's also this guy, Frank, who Riley falls for... but also appears only interested in dating both sisters at the same time.
What is good about it?
The New York Four is a great original story, which only shows how great a writer Brian Wood (DEMO, DMZ) can be.

All his character are not simply mere two dimensional, they're allowed to grow and evolve through the narrative.

This MINX inprint was a great way DC had for a while to offer these sort of alternative comics and indie stories, mostly aiming for a female audience. But I'd say everyone can enjoy this book. It's really fun, thoughtful and intelligent.

The New York Four wants to be sort of Brian Wood's guide to New York City at times. It's mostly a story about the city of NY, living there. But it's also a pretty engaging tale of youth and how the city is perceived through the idealism of younger eyes. New York is just as important as a character in itself.

There's plenty of roommate drama (something than can be familiar to a lot of teens who had to move to the big city to study, be wherever you live in). The story comes from all the interactions between these various relationship, their conflicts, their friendship and each protagonist's own family issues. It's a tale about the beginning of adulthood! A slice of life kind of story.

The book features a great cast of well fleshed out characters, all explored over the story.

Our freshman, Riley slowly discovers how though living in the Big Apple can be. Be it all the drama revolving around life on the campus or her own personal troubles at home.

Besides the storylines, The New York Four is also a love letter to New York City (despite being the opposite of his work on DMZ, it kinda works as a complementary piece). Like the Brooklyn-born Riley, Brian Wood himself has lived most of his life in New York. And it shows.

What is bad about it?
There's nothing much to complaint from this book. The New York Four is an example how good and different comics can be when they don't focus on action-oriented stories.

Or even if you're that put off by black & white illustrations, the book looks and feels real enough to take you mind off the topic.

But it can perhaps almost feel like a tour book at times. When Wood gets focuses on showing how lovely New York scenes can look like, we kinda lost the focus from the story on the scenery filled with a ton little details and all these descriptions about the locals. It might look like a guide book. And that can be a bit harder on some readers.

Also some might find it a bit bland or formulaic. It's nothing you haven't seen from all these indie films coming out of the Sundance Film Festival. But the fact that it's on comic book form should make it fresh enough.

On a completely different note, the short-lived Minx line didn't last long. So getting your hands on one of these graphic novel might be hard to come by these days. But despite being harder to find, it's really worth the effort. It's just a shame this Minx imprint died so quickly... 

What’s the art like?

Ryan Kelly is a great artist. Who can showcase some diversity in his cast. People look realistic here. They each all have their own personality shown through their own appearance, looks and clothes. Each protagonist has their own distinct style and you can even see that in the type of walks and personalities.

Gorgeous art all around! Wood also collaborated on the previous book Local. Kelly was a great choice for this kind of story.

Great drawings, very fun and original story. An enjoyable read, well paced and well drawn. All these characters are pretty engaging and fun to follow. 

More information
New York Four
176 pages, Priced at approximately £6.85.
ISBN-10: 1401211542
ISBN-13: 978-1401211547

Further reading
Following the end of the MINX inprint, the story of Riley & co would continue in a 2010 Vertigo Comics follow-up to The New York Four.
The New York Five  This sequel series will be the topic for another review!
The whole series was also republished in the form of an Omnibus edition of The New York Four and The New York Five, at Dark Horse Comics.

If you enjoyed this read, be sure to have a look at the rest of Brian Wood work, most of his stories are all really worth a look. Particularly if you liked the New York City angle, considering how he loves the city and tries to make it as much part of his tales.
DMZ - review available here
Northlanders - review available here
Local, which has the same creative team.
Massive, Brian Wood's current on-going series.

On another note, there's plenty similar slice of life-type of stories in indie comics as well as Vertigo Comics. I'd recommend giving a look at
Death: The High Cost of Living

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