Road is a new short graphic novel from Charles Schneeflock Snow. It originally appeared as part of his webcomic Sordid City Blues which is a favorite of mine. I've always liked Sordid City Blues — it's probably suffered in awareness online because of some hiatuses from Snow. There's also it's willingness to acknowledge and grapple with the Christianity of its characters. Anytime an author puts an agenda over telling a good story, whether it's religion, politics or an ideology, well that can just kill the chances of a good story. But incorporating any topic, even religion, politics or ideology, into a story isn't the same as having an agenda above the story. And Snow does not have an agenda, but rather has a number of characters who deal with issues of faith and religion in a pretty honest and interesting way.
Road is one of the better stories from Snow and is very worthy of its book treatment. It's the tale of the very small band Owns Big Mecha doing a short East Coast tour. This is one of those classic — play small clubs, stay in friends' basements kind of deal — with the band driving in a van, eating bad food, getting lost and everything that goes along with that. The band does feature three of the main characters from the ongoing webcomic, but Road feels pretty self-contained and I don't think you need any backstory to enjoy it on its own terms.
I think the framework of a short tour is a nice way to give the book a natural opening and ending. Owns Big Mecha consists of Barkey, Luther and Yoshimi. There's tension between all three of the main characters in different ways and Snow keeps the focus on the three of them. Barkey is single and the least religious of them, Yoshimi is married and the most religious. Luther is somewhere in between. Nicely, Snow gives each of them an arc in this story: Barkey deals with his musical career and the sudden reappearance of a former bandmate; Yoshimi deals with temptations and questioning her decision to get married early in life; Luther desperately wants to make the Owns Big Mecha tour work. Yoshimi in particular as the more straitlaced character, I think provides some of the more interesting moments in the book. Snow gives her a mixture of textures that hang together well from her fighting off an unwanted assault to awkwardly pursuing a crush to bantering with a more freewheeling cousin. Her musings on her early marriage seemed right somehow – giving her character a bittersweet quality. It's never clear that she regrets her decisions, at least completely, so much as the mixed emotions many people often have about life-altering decisions.
While Snow's art can be energetic and certainly works in a lo-fi way, I do think better visuals would help the book. The cover is quite good though – I know color is more time-consuming but it makes you wonder what Road would have looked like if it was entirely in color. Looking at the cover, I think the color gives Snow's characters a bit more depth and helped with his sometimes shaky linework. Still I thought he did a fantastic job with the music scenes in the book — page 57 in particular.
The author gave a free copy of the book to ComixTalk for review purposes.