Ursula Murray Husted
Apocalyptic Tangerine Press
Meandering the tables at Stumptown Comics Fest, I stopped to chat with Ursula Murray Husted. She had a wide selection of books to choose from. When asked which was her favorite, without hesitation she pointed at Looking Up. She explained that the story (a love story between a man, a woman, and a bottomless pit) stemmed from her time in West Virginia. She wanted to pay tribute to the people and the landscape in her book.
She designed the book with a number of double-gatefold pages to replicate the “potato chip bag” nature of living in the mining valleys of West Virginia. As she explained it, the land rose straight up, and the cities and towns were like the broken chips at the bottom of the bag. I know it comes off a bit rough in the re-telling, but she meant it as a compliment!
Looking Up tells the story of a few people living in the fictional mining town of Vertical. Some of the people are there by choice. Some of them are there because they are stuck. And some are struggling out figure out why they are there and if they should stay. In the middle of the lives of two people, Olive and Colt, a literal and metaphorical hole opens up, seemingly without meaning or end.
Looking Up seems like a really good first draft. The story is compelling and the characters are believable. I found myself genuinely caring about Olive and Colt. I wanted them to figure out what to do about the gaping hole in their relationship. I wanted Colt to repair the relationship with his brother and the gaping hole in his family that was left when his brother left home. I even wanted Olive and Colt to figure out what to do with the hole in their backyard that seemed to appear out of nowhere in the middle of the night. Husted did a wonderful job of making the people of this small town believable and three-dimensional. Instead of being sad caricatures of miners, these were real people with real problems.
Unfortunately there were several distractions for me as a reader that kept me from fully enjoying the book. From misspelled words to redundant word balloons and confusing sentence structures, the book could have benefited tremendously from a good editor. The story itself was so compelling and the characters so believable that I was able to move through the distractions. But, just as a boom mike that drops in to the frame momentarily pulls you out of a movie, these minor distractions definitely took away from my enjoyment of the book
The book also struggled in the art department. Husted is a much stronger storyteller than she is artist. Her anatomy is off and her characters seem to change appearance from panel to panel. Husted also made an artistic choice to accent her line work with grey tones that run parallel to her black lines. In some cases, such as when she is using the grey tones to act as shadows, it works wonderfully. However, when they are used on people, for the most part it looks like lines that were not fully erased after inking. Just like the distractions in the lettering, these additional lines took away from my enjoyment of the story. I would have preferred that Husted fully inked the piece, paying attention to line width to add the depth and weight that I believe she was going for.In the end, Looking Up is a great story with some flaws in the execution. Compelling characters and a unique story overcome (but just barely) the art and lettering. Were this to be taken back and polished up, I could see the book being picked up by a publisher.