Hopeless, Maine is a comic where the setting is as important, if not more so, than the main characters. Instead of being a detraction, the all-encompassing atmosphere which surrounds and penetrates each panel makes for a reading experience wich simultaneously sends chills of delight and terror up your spine.
The setting is so pervasive that, when describing the book on their site, Archaia completely ignores any of the characters and goes straight for the setting:
The island has been isolated for a very long time. Partly because of being small and forgotten, partly because the rocks and currents do not encourage visitors, Hopeless is surrounded by fog and overrun with nightmarish creatures, from small things with tentacles to demons and vampires. It’s a peculiar place. Here, almost anything can happen, from the weird and unsettling to the darkly funny. With a cast of freaks, nutters and the odd power crazed psychopath, life in Hopeless is seldom dull.
Each panel is filled with grainy grays which perfectly mimics the effect of dense fog. Characters move though shadowy landscapes where only a few objects can be clearly recognized, while others are just vague suggestions. Branches, roofs, and wrought-iron fences all twist and curl into unfamiliar shapes…some with eyes which stare back.
This remote island off the coast of Maine is inhabited by an odd collection of people. There are witches and wizards, ghosts and goblins, and an ever-growing population of orphans whose parents have disappeared without a trace. One such orphan is Salamandra, a young girl who insists she is not a witch. However, given her ability to make things happen with just the flick of here finger, she has a difficult time convincing the other children in the orphanage of this fact.
Salamandra is visited by a pretty blonde girls with flowing black ribbons which seem to have a life of their own. Surprisingly, or not given the spooky surroundings, Salamandra is the only one who can see the girl. But when Salamandra begins to have her doubts about the girl’s sincerity, things get dangerous in a hurry.
Husband and wife creators Tom and Nimue Brown have created something special with Hopeless, Maine. Nimue’s script is a joy to read. Instead of lamenting the fact they live in such a strange locale, the characters seem to revel in it. THe book is Burton-esque in its joy of the macabre. Tom Brown’s art never veers into the deeply moody or melancholy. Instead, it loops and swirls and adds to the Tim Burton feeling, with just a touch of the Addams Family thrown in.
My only complaint is that there are times when it is difficult to identify characters. Tom Brown’s characters tend to look quite similar, especially when they are all bundled up against the chill. Luckily the script adds quite a bit of information, so the confusion is usually fleeting. It is a minor hiccup in a overall fantastic book.
This is the first volume in what will hopefully be a long series. The world is enthralling, and there is clearly far more going on there than has been shown. This volume clearly just scratches the surface of the world. There are many mysteries left to be solved, creepy-crawly things living in the shadows, and magic spells left to be cast.
Get your very own copy of Hopeless, Maine, here.
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