24 pages, full color
The protagonist of Last Train To Old Town is a kid we only know as “Two-Shoes,” which in a way cements his generic outsider status right from the start. He lives in a placed called Newtown, which exists in all its suburban squalor in the shadow of The City, smack dab between the ubiquitous lures of a big city and a far more mysterious place called Old Town, which is usually referred to in hushed whispers. “Two-Shoes” exists in a life of social isolation, his book-smart nature helping him navigate a precarious existence in the borders between the various high school cliques of homophobic jocks, the OMG’ing popular girls, and relatively entrenched gamers. Ultimately, he’s taken in by a more adventurous group consisting of their leader Stoner, the girl C.J., and Metalhead Mike. It’s uncertain if they keep him around because they actually like him (there’s a twinge of that from Stoner) or because they just need his help with their homework (we pick up a more dismissive posturing from the other two). Last Train To Old Town is the first chapter of a collected webcomic of the same name, with simply breathtaking color art from Kenan Rubenstein. It’s a book that’s obviously a true labor of love, complete with maps, offbeat hand-lettering, hand-mounted panels, and serves as an example of craft comics where you can strongly sense the hand of the artist present on every page. The creative energy leaps off the page. It’s an impressive comic purely as a unique objet d’art. It’s clear that Rubenstein has a handle on everything artistically, from the design of the book, to the topography of the rural environments he works in, to the strong figure work, to the fact that his ear for dialogue rings true, but not in the sickeningly self-aware fashion that so many books about kids try to portray. It’s a genuine look and feel for a kid as a perpetual outsider, but he doesn’t necessarily acknowledge himself as such; we’re asked to infer this as he’s more fascinated from afar by the transformative properties of a random chrysalis. Rubenstein intuitively relays character properties without much dialogue, with a stronger reliance on unified color palettes of pale pink, aqua blue, or warm light browns. I enjoyed the way the larger story comes together so naturally. It is essentially what the superhero mainstream writers would call an “assembling the team” issue, bringing the disparate parts together for a grand guignol adventure, but the book never makes that goal known until you realize it’s already underway in the last couple of sequences. Rubenstein begins to operate in a liminal state, deliberately blurring the line between reality and fantasy, at which point you realize the kids are escaping their dreary routine, headed for Old Town with witches, knights, and magicians in tow. The creator is able to use familiar tropes in new unique settings, render them beautifully, and the end result is one of the most beautiful comics I’m likely to read this year. Though it seems ridiculously early to call, I’ve always been a betting man, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Last Train To Old Towns makes an appearance on my Best of 2013 list. Grade A+.