REVIEW: ‘Drawn to Key West,’ Issue #1

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Drawn to Key West #1 - But Why Tho?

Drawn to Key West #1 is the first in a series of comics written and illustrated by Theresa Chiechi, colored by Vanessa Matte, and lettered by Ellen Chao. The series is part history and biography, part personal project, and all heart and soul published independently through Chieci’s website and Etsy page.

In Drawn to Key West #1, Chiechi begins by explaining how the comic came to be. She has always had an affinity for Key West since vacationing there with her grandparents as a kid, and as an adult, she has moved to the island, intending to interview its residents and tell their stories through a comic book. The location at the heart of the comics, and Chieci’s heart, is Mallory Square and its famed Sunset Celebration. Each issue tells the stories of the Square’s many performers.

Issue 1 tells the story of Blue, aka Jean Morab, a juggler. Chiechi also provides a brief history of the island, paying reverence to its original inhabitants and poking well-written fun at the numerous colonizing forces over the centuries. Everything is further contextualized with stories and interviews from other residents of the island as well.

I love the approach Chiechi takes to her storytelling. Drawn to Key West #1 alternates points of view between Chiechi herself as she talks to folks throughout Key West and illustrates the stories she and others share. This style lends itself to both great humor and really heartfelt introspection. The way Blue’s story is told through his own direct quotes makes him a clearly endearing subject. I love the way his story is told, alternating between illustrations of his story itself and illustrations of him telling the story to Chiechi. It helps make his story feel both alive and rooted in his actual personhood, rather than it just being any other story.

I also adore the way Chiechi herself is as an actor in the story. It helps invests me fully in her personal quest to tell all of these people’s stories. She illustrates her own anxiety about talking to strangers despite wanting to conduct these interviews, shares her journey from her New York home to her new Key West home, and intertwines her own reasons for loving Key West and its people. Seeing everything through her adoring eyes makes me adore everything that much more and has me genuinely thrilled to read the rest of the series.

The art in Drawn to Key West #1 is also exquisite. The illustration alone gives so much personality to the book’s characters. The colors are exactly the colors you would hope for from a book about a tropical island, especially with the blues, reds, and oranges of the backgrounds. I perhaps wish the background characters were wearing a little more colorful clothing to match the rest of the really colorful atmosphere. Still, that could have been too distracting in the midst of so much vibrant watercolor. The lettering is also excellent, written in a font that elicited beachy vibes while remaining perfectly legible throughout.

I also appreciate that Drawn to Key West feels real. It could easily be mistaken for a project paid for by the tourist bureau, given the type of comic it is. But this book has curse words, every-slightly adult subject matter, and doesn’t just whitewash the island’s history. It’s an authentic display of Key West. And while there is perhaps something that could be said about the nature of a story told from the perspective of somebody who only recently moved to the community, the comic does not attempt to offer any opinions or make assertions about Key West. It simply shares its vibrant, diverse community through a mix of its residents’ words and impassioned eyes. And that approach is both appreciable and successful.

Drawn to Key West #1 is a gorgeous, unique type of comic that blends the author’s personal journey with the history, lives, and community of Mallory Square in Key West. The approach to storytelling is utterly unique and absolutely captivating, and I cannot wait to learn more about the performers of Mallory Square through their words and Chiechi’s eyes and illustrations.

Drawn to Key West #1 is available now at drawntokeywest.com.

Drawn to Key West #1
4.5

TL;DR

Drawn to Key West #1 is a gorgeous, unique type of comic that blends the author’s personal journey with the history, lives, and community of Mallory Square in Key West. The approach to storytelling is utterly unique and absolutely captivating, and I cannot wait to learn more about the performers of Mallory Square through their words and Chiechi’s eyes and illustrations.