Nowhere Girl by Justine Shaw, reviewed by Damonk

If you haven’t yet heard of Nowhere Girl, please listen – you don’t know what you’re missing, ’cause this nowhere girl has a world of intrigue, character, and some top-notch CG at her command.

Created by Justine Shaw, the full-page, episodic drama webcomic popped up barely a year ago, and has already managed to generate some very positive hype with few pages – even notable print comic writers have marked her explosive (and, it should be noted, completely independent!) arrival to the webcomics scene.

Nowhere Girl, with two chapters published to date, has only just begun. In the first chapter, the heroine of the story (Jamie) seethes about here and there, dealing with imagined romantic triangles, crushed hopes and dreams – an angsty teen pitted against the world but only wishing about leaving it. The second chapter jumps forward a few years, and presents a very different Jamie, one that has stepped out of the black cocoon of this mucked-up past to swim around in (what seems to be?) a healthier, more positive environment. Sure, it may not sound like much at first, but there’s a lot more waiting underneath the surface.

An air of intrigue and mystery surrounds those around Jamie, a collection of characters she thinks of or once thought of as friends. No major action actually takes place in these initial installments, but there are a LOT of potentially interesting hints of storylines open for exploration, and the reader finds himself both curious and interested as to where these avenues will lead.

Shaw sets mood and character very expertly in Nowhere Girl through an effective use of color and selective palette. The first chapter is shrouded in dark tones and heavyset shadows, a gray gammut for a grim girl’s disenchanted world views. Meanwhile, the second chapter is a jarring contrast, with luminous blue skies and a full-on, bright rainbow spectrum of hues to reflect the (seemingly?) positive outlook currently embraced by our heroine.

In general, the art is both capable and concise. Simple line art that may not seem all that outstanding by itself is made impressive thanks to Shaw’s remarkable CG color skills – the term “fleshing out” may have been prophetically coined with Shaw in mind. Everything is drawn freehand, to give the strip more of an organic feel. Moreover, even though her backgrounds and general surroundings aren’t as draftsperson-perfect as, say, the crisp ruler linework of your average manga paperback, they never look awkward or out of place. On the whole, the line art and color combine to offer up a very professional-looking product, one with shades of Dan Clowes (art), David Lloyd and Steve Whitaker (colors, palette – think V for Vendetta), and Terry Moore (facials, especially profiles).

One minor artistic flaw squeaks about near the beginning, where, probably as a result of trying to make everything look "prettier" (i.e., a polished look), facials are not very expressive at all, sometimes failing outright to reflect the emotion or feeling expressed in the corresponding word balloons (examples of this can be found here, in the last panel, or here, in the first panel). Fortunately, as Shaw draws more pages, her art becomes looser and less concerned with ‘perfect’ aestheticism, with the resulting benefit of a marked improvement in more realistic character facials and body shape/positioning. But this is a minor quibble, as overall, the art, not to mention the very dynamic layouts and panel-by-panel rhythm/timing, are consistently solid and of nigh-pro quality.

In terms of plot, there’s nothing remarkably new or original here: angsty girl is mad at world, angsty girl wants something (love? appreciation?…love?) but doesn’t know how to ask for it, angsty girl is "saved" by unlikely/unexpected new friends, and given the tools for a “new and improved” life – certainly not anything that could be considered fresh or cutting edge.

However, Shaw more than makes up for this with clever and engaging writing. While the dialogue may sometimes seem a little average or forced (again, more in the early pages than the later ones, which is a good sign of improvement), the overall feel of the writing is top-notch. You find yourself quickly becoming attached to the highly magnetic characters, and soon you can’t seem to stop clicking for the next page, wondering what’ll happen next and why. Shaw knows how to flesh out her characters with words as well as she fleshes them out with CG.

Through interaction with other flawed but nevertheless "good" human beings, we learn of Jamie’s own depths, even those unknown to herself. This is no perfect heroine, yet it is this very imperfection that serves to make her more believable to the reader, more appealing. Jamie is a palimpsest – a blank sheet upon which the world leaks onto and impresses itself. In a sense, this nowhere girl serves as an everyman(woman) – herself a diary of the times and events in which she lives, those that WE ourselves live.

Overall, it would have to be said that all the hype surrounding Nowhere Girl is justified. Justine Shaw has produced an engaging story out of a commonplace plot, and one that gets more captivating as each page clicks by. If the last pages of the second chapter are any indication, there’s a HUGE can of something on the cusp of being ripped open – a suspenseful something which only makes the reader literally slaver for more.

The beginning may have you thinking that the story is travelling nowhere fast, but if you press on, you’ll find that this particular Nowhere Girl is DEFINITELY going places, and there’s a very strong chance you’ll be itching to follow.