Restless dwellers in Something City’s flourishing neighborhoods waltz in and out of neatly kept parks and dockside open-air markets, pondering their next move or the one they just made. They battle feelings of confinement in their community and discuss the restrictions that materialize within the spaces where they live and act. In her weird and interesting comics debut for South London’s Avery Hill, artist Ellice Weaver is concerned with place. She profiles numerous characters and explores the dynamics of how they function in their space, assigning all corners of her fictive metropolis their own chapter and particular color palette.
Hip parents develop artisanal party menus in “UpperHaven Squaresville,” the first of the interconnected stories in Something City. Its title page sets the course for how each comic is introduced: Big, stencil-like type calls out the wealthy enclave for which this chapter is named. Below the blocky letters, characters with a broad range of body shapes and skin tones attend to purple and butterscotch-golden plants in the single panel’s backyard gardens. Squared-off bluish green lawns contrast sharply with the artist’s network of showy geometrical shapes and unlikely color pairings. Drafted in comical disproportion to the architectural structures around them, long-limbed neighbors lean ladders against homes topped with imperfect rows of purple and black roof slats. Inside the houses, Weaver’s spindly figures move around blotty tabletops, each free of pesky contour lines. Working in what she described to Pipedream Comics as a process similar to screenprinting, the illustrator lends a pronounced visual texture to her drawings. It’s as if we’re thumbing quilted patterns in order to better examine the stitch work.
New UpperHaven residents Jo Walker and her husband unpack their belongings inside borderless panels that aren’t always set sequentially and allude to a nasty scandal involving a dog mauling in their recent past. They call Something City a “new start” in slim word balloons that sit atop panels as if they’re narrative captions rather than dialogue. (These mechanics prove frustrating at first, particularly when paired with the book’s nonlinear sequencing.) Elsewhere, rigid customs and household rules in “The Amish Community” send a teen girl and her like-minded peers running out into the world, while space-aimed wanderlust and fear of contamination pair oddly in “Brook Field Terrace.”
“Space is the most hygienic place there is,” a stargazing germaphobe declares from the bedroom in Brook Field that she’s barely able to leave. Tightly composed depictions of her cramped quarters clash sharply with the vast green and pewter autumn evening she admires from her window. Like the emphasis on architecture and impermanence in Kristen Radtke’s Imagine Wanting Only This, or the promotion of “place” in other Avery Hill projects like Owen D. Pomery’s Between the Billboards & the Authoring of Architecture, Something City’s figures are acutely aware of the limitations in their lives, each of which is connected to place. Weaver’s characters, whose stories were written while she traveled Europe in a van, reminisce about their childhood homes, talk of “rebuilding,” and are eager to go someplace. They’re wary of settling down, they’re leaving things behind, or they’re breaking from constraints rooted in where they live.
In the book’s final chapter, “Hound Town Avenue,” a woman says, “Everyone moves on, that’s just life.” She’s leaving town, perched on the back of a packed moving truck, saying goodbye to Aunt Sue. Weaver’s themes run thick here — there’s talk of high rents, remortgaging homes, and neighborhood drama. The characters are surrounded by boxes; the truck is moments away from rolling out of town. Surely there’s something else for her out there.
“You’ll be happy in your new place?” asks Sue.
“Well, probably,” she replies. “I mean, houses are just bricks and windows, right?”
Something City is now available from Avery Hill.