College road trips can be murder. With speed traps hidden behind every billboard and tensions high from hours on the road, getting to college can be harder than getting admitted. But Lisa Naffziger, best known as the creative force behind the webcomic Petrichor, knows that you can get lost on the road college.
With her original graphic novel Minus, Naffziger follows a young woman whose past and present collide one summer day. Published by Iron Circus Comics, this coming of age thriller takes readers on a tense journey along the open highways of Illinois.
Minus finds protagonist 17-year-old Beck Beveroth on a college road-trip with her adoptive father. Homeschooled since she was small, Beck has just been admitted to the University of Illinois. With her childhood stuffed animal Minus at her side, Beck can’t wait to start her new life as a biology student.
But her road to college takes a rough turn when an ordinary rest stop erupts into gunfire. In the aftermath, Beck finds one man dead, while her father and their car are nowhere to be seen. Alone and not sure who she can trust, Beck strikes out on her own, searching for answers as well as her father along the winding roads of Illinois.
There’s a wonderful harmony between Naffziger’s adjective art and Minus’s thriller storyline. As a thriller, the book takes us to dark places where the line between right and wrong blurs. To reflect that moral ambiguity, Naffziger employs a wide pallet of cooly de-saturated secondary colors. And of course, you have Minus‘s shadows, imposing and textured plains of crayon-like darkness. Noir inspired approach charges Minus with nervous energy, propelling readers along. Like Beck we are kept in the dark, scrambling to find stable ground in an ever-shifting landscape.
But Naffziger’s broad lines and breezy colors line also work to belay that tension. Even with its heavy shadows, Minus’s pallet is still colorful, it’s hues are just shy of actual vibrancy. They’re uneasy colors that want you to think that everything is fine even as the graphic novel hurtles towards conflict. It’s a wonderful counterbalance that keeps readers on their toes. Early chapters of Minus flow easily thanks to this dynamic, with each chapter turning up tension faster than it can dissipate.
Unfortunately, this proves to be a pace the book sets can’t be maintained. The final act of the graphic novel tries to pay off too many mysteries at once. Many of these mysteries have clues well seeded throughout the novel. But others come out of nowhere, or just as another twist is revealed.
Minus’ final act is overloaded with such sudden revelations. And since it is the final act, Beck rarely gets the chance to reflect on these life-altering discoveries. It’s a shame, as Minus explores some very heavy subject matter. It would have been good to spend more time inside Beck’s headspace during those moments. Without that, following her state of mind a challenge, but not one that tips the story over.
With the challenging subject matter and heavy themes, Minus proves to be a complex coming of age tale that will have teen readers on the edge of their seats. While at times uneven this graphic novel is a thought-provoking thriller well worth the trip.
Minus is available now on Iron Circus Comics’ online store.
With the challenging subject matter and heavy themes, Minus proves to be a complex coming of age tale that will have teen readers on the edge of their seats.