There’s been something of a gap between issues but the second chapter of Patt Kelley’s dark contemporary fantasy series Scout proves to be well worth the wait. Kelley is an artist whose work can be described as endearingly grotesque, with visuals that are simultaneously entrancing and disturbing. He produces comics that lure you into their recognisable and yet skewed worlds – environments that casually combine the everyday and the otherworldly to ensure that while their protagonists’ plights are relatable their surroundings still fill us with awe.
Scout follows the adventures of its titular character – a small town girl who juggles the stresses of school with her investigations into the weirdness all around her. Her mother is psychic, there are hideous monsters roaming the local woods killing people and there’s the mystery of the strange man who walks out to sea every day. Added to this a plague wiped out most of the planet’s canine population years ago, she’s become pally with a hermit called William who lives in a hole in the ground, and her pet is an “ambulatory piece of candy” known as a Woofer. In Scout’s world, though, this is all part of her daily routine…
What was so fascinating about the first instalment of the story was Kelley’s ability to so fully immerse us in the bizarreness of his narrative with so little explanation for the oddness that abounds in Scout’s life. This second issue – subtitled ‘The Places We Live’ – begins to explain some of the previously disparate seeming plot points, slowly drawing them together and revealing links. But it does so in a way that doesn’t as much clarify the mythology of Scout’s world as embroider it. Answers throw up bigger questions as, through a liberal use of flashbacks, we discover the tragedy that led to William’s life in the hole and some of the possible reasons for the wide-ranging weirdness that infects the planet.
Longer-term fans of Kelley’s work will delight in hints of a wider “Kelley-verse” as his digital Top Shelf graphic novel What Am I Going to Do Without You? from a few years back is significantly referenced. New readers need not worry though – this is an entirely standalone read that is less continuation and more an examination of similar events from a different viewpoint.
Once again it’s Kelley’s distinctive art – all oozing elasticity and warped perspective – that not just heightens but positively exacerbates the eeriness inherent in every claustrophobically tight-panelled page. A muted yet eye-catching use of colour adds to the dramatic intensity of a story that is carefully, but noticeably, ramping up the tension as it progresses. This is a comic that quietly embraces its own peculiarity but, in amongst all the undeniable outlandishness, there’s some very human drama at its heart… and that’s undoubtedly Scout’s greatest strength.
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