My brain and I attack our fair share of books, but as a person of the lady persuasion, I worry sometimes that I am not reading enough books by others of said persuasion. I know those books are out there, but sometimes I get sidetracked by the names that everyone is tossing around and wind up reading far too much Neal Stephenson and Shigeru Mizuki, while neglecting lesser-known, but equally awesome lady writers like Mieko Kawakami and Carol Lay. And given the sad, sad state of representation for my fellow vagina owners, I am pretty much one hundred percent behind shining a spotlight on these ladies. My brain’s already battling the books; why not take up arms against sexism at the same time?
Fortunately, I have friends who are able to respond with five authors I’ve never heard of when I say I am looking for some new ladies to fall in love with. So when I strolled into my favourite comics shop The Beguiling in need of some lady love, they were there for my voracious brain. “Like science fiction?” P. says to me. “You should try Finder.” And the one thing my brain likes more than battling books and sexism is enormous tomes of SF comics goodness. So I paid the man his money and hauled the thing home. And it is a thing. Seven hundred or so pages including notes and original covers, it is easily the largest comic occupying my shelves.
The thing everyone says when I mention that I am reading Finder is the world building, so I guess I should mention that too. Yes. There is world building. It is pretty amazing. And it is even more incredible when you get to the forty or so pages of notes at the end and realize that this world is more fully fleshed out than it seemed on your casual read-through. McNeil has created an almost entirely foreign world where people live in domed cities, save for a few nomadic barbarian tribes who roam the outside world, proud of being a part of a world that no one else wants. This world is so seamless and detailed that it actually startled me when fairly late in the book, a bathroom showed up, a perfect replica of any North American bathroom, complete with toilet paper hung overhand style. (And trying to figure out what that is called led me to a blog focussed entirely on bathroom etiquette. What would we do without the Internet?)
The story jumps around a bit, but mainly, we’re following around the finder and sin-eater Jaeger, a half-breed in a world of pure-blooded clans. The clans are freaky and interesting in that all the members of the same clan look the same. Jaeger is involved with a pure-blooded clanswoman Emma who married a man from another clan, Brigham, and had three half-breed kids, Rachel who looks like she belongs to her mother’s clan, except when she smiles; Lynne, who’s been raised as a girl, but is actually a boy; and Marcella who is seriously messed up and the narrator of the last story arc of the book, “Talisman”. Brigham screwed them up in some serious ways and went to jail, so when the book starts, he is out of the picture and it is just the ladies in their apartment, and Jaeger who comes and goes, ostensibly Emma’s boyfriend, but also the object of Rachel’s lust.
What makes it all so interesting is, duh, the world. And of course, all the characters in it. These are real people, and animal people, and just plain animals. McNeil never makes the boring mistake of telling us anything. She just tells her story and expects us to follow along, whether or not we understand why all the walking-upright cat people are ladies and all the male cats are, well, cats. She weaves in such great details like the Painwright Gallery where an oracle will tell you whatever you want in exchange for your darkest fear, or a living house made of grass inside a tree.
In a way, the whole thing reminds me of a long-running web comic, which it turns out it is. In terms of the art, I mean. You know when you stumble upon a web comic and you get really into it, so you decide to go back and read the archives? And you’re startled/horrified by how different/amateurish the art in the beginning is? Yeah. The first three chapters of Finder are like that. I almost wish she had gone back and re-drawn them for this Dark Horse collection. The characters and the design are so much more complete in the latter half of the book, and there are some really incredible moments, especially in the last arc in the book, “Talisman”. I felt distracted by the awkwardness of the art in the first part.
And “Talisman”, while great on its own, was also a bit on the confusing side. Up until this last arc, the narrative had focussed for the most part of Jaeger and his misadventures, seeing Emma and her family from his perspective for the most part. But “Talisman” is all Marcella. Jaeger is just a person who gave her a book. A very influential book that she loses and then spends the rest of the story looking for. As a total book nerd, Marcella’s feelings about reading resonate pretty strongly, but the story does feel disconnected from the rest of the collection.
But these are small complaints, especially when the art pulls together so tightly by the end. This definitely won’t deter me in any way from picking up Volume 2. And maybe the next volume will bring Marcella’s bookishness together with Jaeger’s wildness? I’m definitely looking forward to finding out.