The last time I reviewed a Patt Kelley comic at Broken Frontier I was entranced by a distinctive mix of the everyday and the utterly bizarre within its pages. On that occasion it was his graphic novel What Am I Going to Do Without You?, a book that examined themes of loneliness, love and death against a backdrop of eerie, Fortean phenomena. His new self-published series Scout adopts a similar juxtaposition of recognisable reality and fantasy intrusions, wherein the latter once again accentuates the sheer humanity of the former.
In the small town world in which the titular schoolgirl Scout lives with her mother, huge monstrous creatures roam the local woods, psychics can put you in touch with the dead, and all dogs were wiped out in a plague twenty years ago. Our young heroine is embroiled in this local oddness when it becomes apparent that the aforementioned things in the wood are attacking the locals, with one killing in particular puzzling her.
But that’s not all that Scout has to contend with. Multiple mysteries abound to fit around her high school day. What is up with the injured man who walks out to sea every morning? Who is the wandering wraith-like spirit in the forest? And what lies behind the lifestyle of the old hermit, William, who lives in a hole with the last canine on Earth?
Kelley’s whimsical world-building is a true delight throughout the pages of Scout; an environment with its own peculiar internal logic slowly unfolding on the page. Superficially it’s the one you know from outside your window but the more we observe of Scout, her family and friends the more we learn of all the ways in which it diverges from our own plane of existence. Here, “monster safety” lessons are a normal part of the school assembly, kids have regenerating pets they can eat called Woofers who are described as “ambulatory pieces of candy”, and Scout’s mother cries blood when she’s upset. They’re almost throwaway details but they’re played entirely straight as part and parcel of the book’s weirdly inventive narrative style.
Kelley’s tight, multi-panelled layouts ensure each page is densely packed but his storytelling has such a natural flow to it that entire sequences are communicated without exposition. It seems a little lazy to say his characters have a Burton-esque look but there is a similar vibe to them – one that is underlined by the striking mixed media cover to the book. That slightly off-centre feel to his cartooning, and the borderline grotesqueness of the cast that inhabit these pages, all add to the underlying creepiness that lies at the heart of Scout.
Patt Kelley’s work has such an idiosyncratic voice – both whimsical and yet disturbingly dark – that his comics are always a delight. A poignant and slightly disquieting one, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, but a delight nonetheless. Scout #1 is jam-packed with mysteries to be solved, plot points to be engaged with, and characters to discover. A testament to a creative imagination that is overflowing with concepts and ideas just ready to burst onto the comics page.
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