One of my favorite genres of comics are those that are about people and their relationships. I’ve held a love for serialized dramas on television for years (i.e. Beverly Hills, 90210) and when I stumbled on books like Strangers In Paradise and Shades of Gray, I realized that many indie comics held the same allure, telling tales of boys, girls and their intermingling. For whatever reason, these types of books have become few and far between, (I chalk it up to the zombies craze) and I’ve been desperate for the next relationship book that I could sink my teeth into. So when I heard about Hazed from Image Comics, I got excited because it sounded right up my alley.
Hazed is an original graphic novel written by Mark Sable, with art by Robbi Rodriguez scheduled to be hitting shelves this Wednesday for $14.99. Set in the world of sororities and fraternities at a college in the southern US, Hazed certainly gives you a run for your money. The solicitation text compares the book to the films Heathers and Mean Girls, so there is an immediate frame of reference set. Usually I try to avoid those types of quick descriptions which unfortunately are needed in this world of glut on the market, but I do have to admit that it’s interesting to see Image describe the book this way, as I’m sure there are many reviewers damning that description for using that comparison before they could. But I do also have to admit that the Heathers/Mean Girls comparison is scarily accurate.
The story is simple enough, in the beginning we are introduced to Ileana, a star student destined for the ivy league, or at least a very good liberal arts school in the Northeast. Somehow she is convinced to attend a school in the South steeped in the Greek life. It was within these first 3 pages that I knew that this story would be of the amusing type and that I really wouldn’t be able to take it all that seriously, because really, no star student like Ileana would accept this idea and actually risk her future. It’s unbelievable decisions/turns of the story that keep this book moving forward in a satirical manner. With the setting established we read on and are equally amused and horrified by the adventure that lays ahead for Ileana as she attempts to take the Sorority system down from the inside.
I’ll tell you right now, a lot of people are going to hate this graphic novel. And I mean a lot. Off the top of my head, I know about 5 people who would punch me after I gave them this to read. The events that Mark Sable weaves into the story hit on very sensitive subjects. Eating disorders, date rape, body image issues, insecurity, pretty much every possible issue a young woman could deal with while in college. As I turned each page, I could hear hundreds of proto-feminist voices of people I went college screaming out in horror. I seriously had to take pause before writing this, because I wasn’t sure if I could. The part of me that was introduced to social issues and political correctness was screaming that I should be offended. But then I went back and saw that Heathers/Mean Girls comparison and thought about. I thought about the issues presented and dealt with in those movies, and couldn’t but help to laugh. While the Heathers/Mean Girls comparison is indeed accurate, this book also reminded me very much of Revenge of the Nerds as well. As I observed from the first few pages, you can’t take this book as a serious drama of college life. No, it’s a comedic satire that is at times awful, uncomfortable and yet totally relatable.
The tone of the writing of the book is bolstered by the wonderful art of Robbi Rodriguez. His cartoony style is perfect for the various outrageous situations that emerge. Usually I don’t really go for this type of art, but there was a certain something to the art within Hazed that really made it shine. Rodriguez’s skill of facial expressions was key in making many of the characters relatable. As you felt the pain and envy, the love and hate with every twist and turn that followed each character, their faces told the story as much as the words did. Additionally, the grey tones by Nick Filardi took this black and white story and established a look and feel that transcended a simple black and white indie book. I am constantly impressed at what artists are able to do within comics in black and white with gray tones and I hold this book out as a fine example of some of the best black and white art I’ve seen in a while.
By all rights I should be condemning this graphic novel for being a tale of Sororities written by a man, and for not taking such heavy issues seriously, but I can’t, it was way too much fun to read. I remind myself to chill out and realize that this book is not meant to be taken seriously. While by no means do I think that eating disorders or date rape is funny, they’re not the target in this book, rather the people and societal pressures that are behind them are. Like Mean Girls and Heathers, absolutely ridiculous and unrealistic events happen in Hazed. And yet over the 160 pages, you find yourself not noticing, rooting for the protagonists and are given a wholly satisfying ending. It’s hard to believe the roller coaster that you will ride while reading this book. From laughing to repulsion, it runs the gamut and that’s definitely something worth noting.
Sometimes there is too much pressure in this world (specifically the world of comics) to deliver a deeper meaning and take a stand when delivering a piece of work that is labeled “indie” or “not capes and tights”. Sable and Rodriguez remind us that in same way that ridiculousness exists in movies, it can exist in comics and we’re allowed to have fun while reading them. So, if you’re looking for a new original graphic novel that you can relate to and laugh at while reading, and you’re not too far up on the moral high ground, then I suggest you pick up Hazed.