Return to Sender by Vera Brosgol, Reviewed by Justin Pierce
Feeling a little blue? If so, you're in luck, because Vera Brosgol's Return to Sender makes a little blue go a long way.
Return to Sender is essentially a realistic webcomic with one small, yet deliberate plot twist that sends it into many fantastical tangents – a bit like the old television show Early Edition, but with the fantasy knob cranked up a few notches.
While this is a relatively light-hearted comic, Return to Sender takes very sharp turns to the mature end at times, notably in one pretty graphic scene that comes way out of left field. Couple that with occasional swearing, and I'd imagine a rating somewhere between PG and PG-13 would be apt.
The first thing that pops out at the reader is Return to Sender's spectacular art. It's blue. Very blue. But it's a subtle sort of blue that flavors the comic without overpowering it. The black line art is grittily bold in that Jhonen Vasquez way, and while the backgrounds are completely drawn, they have a way of fading quietly behind the characters. This delicate duotone keeps the atmosphere light, so when outlandish, eerie events occur, the reader almost takes them in stride.
The main male character's name is Often. I make note of this because (as of this review) the comic hardly mentions it, and it's only really addressed deep within Return to Sender's FAQ section. At any rate, Often moves into a new apartment, only to discover a mail slot affixed to the wall in the middle of his living room. The mail slot goes to nowhere, which is curious enough, but it becomes even stranger when letters mysteriously start to plop out...
Characterization is an area where Brosgol's writing really excels. She lets her art do the talking, so the dialogue is light. Still, the characters are believable, and easy to identify with. In fact, I found early on that I stopped thinking of the characters as webcomic characters, and started to think of them as real people, which is no small feat for a comic about a magical mail slot. The sober Often works as a copy editor, and is world-weary beyond his years. If left to his own devices, Often would probably just ignore the letters and no one would be the wiser. This is where Collette comes in.
Free-spirited and kinetic, Collette is Often's goofy galpal - the Laurel to his Hardy. Imagine Edward from Cowboy Bebop a few years older and you'd have a pretty accurate depiction of Collette. She's more than willing to investigate the mysterious letters, and argues with Often over the issue (and most other issues). In fact, they butt heads so often and so violently, it's a wonder how they ever became friends in the first place.
It's hard to judge Return to Sender's overall storyline because of the pacing. It goes through the tricky balance of a comedic epic: sometimes a comic is howlingly funny but doesn't really push the story forward, while other times it has to sacrifice a punchline to keep the pace from slipping. While there are plenty of pages, I have a feeling the story's still in an exposition stage, and there is more to unveil before the entire story really picks up pace.
As it stands, the writing is great, the art is even better, the characterization is top-notch, and the tone is a didactic sort of gritty softness that works, somehow. While the epic story's still too early to critique, it's an incentive for readers hop on before the plot really takes off, check out the archives, and come back for many happy returns. After all, returns are what this comic is all about!