Friday, 5 February 2016

1999 by Noah van Sciver Review

Mark is a college dropout living with his mother in Arizona and working in a sub-shop. He doesn’t have any ambition or clue as to what he wants to do – until he meets married co-worker Nora and falls in love with her.

There are supposedly a handful of basic plots in fiction that get used over and over again and maybe that’s true. The plot of 1999 is the oldest one - boy meets girl, love happens, girl breaks boy’s heart. And it is really that straightforward here. 

Noah van Sciver’s comics are always about people on the lowest rungs of society, usually suffering in some way, physically, mentally or emotionally (sometimes all three!), with hardly anything happening in terms of plot. 1999 is no exception to that formula. 

But the fact that van Sciver can take such a simple story that’s been told a million times before and will be told a million times more and make it his own - and that he even has a style of his own - makes him a pretty damn good cartoonist and 1999 a comic worth reading. 

I don’t want to oversell 1999 - it’s not profound or life-changing, it’s not doing anything that hasn’t been done before; it’s a well-told story with good characterisation and a fine ending. You could argue it’s a little heavy-handed in its symbolism - the supposed “end of Mark’s world” coupled with the end of the millennium and what some believed would be the literal end of the world, love hurt leading to physical hurt, etc. Some readers might relate to Mark and love the comic purely for that but even if you don’t he’s still a character you’ll care about because van Sciver knows how to write. 

And yet. There’s an indefinable quality to this comic that nags the back of my mind and it won’t reveal itself to me completely. Like there’s a distilled drop of real life somehow contained within these 36 pages but I’ll be damned if I know what it’s supposed to mean. There’s something special here somewhere, I just can’t put my finger on it. Is this comics poetry? 

Anyway. Yeah. Noah van Sciver makes interesting comics! And, like everything else I’ve read of his, I dug 1999. If you enjoy slice-of-life indie comics, give this one a shot.


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