Pick of the Week

Pick of the Week – 04.27.2011 – The New York Five #4

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Written by BRIAN WOOD
Art by RYAN KELLY
Cover by BRIAN WOOD and RYAN KELLY

Size: 32 pages
Price: 2.99

When a comic book is announced, you're filled with hopes and dreams that it will pay off for you.  We get a cover, a paragraph of text and some names of creators and that's all we can work off of. Your head fills with expectations as you make statements like, "I read those creator's other work and enjoyed it, so surely I'll enjoy this one." or "The art preview looks great, I'm sure it will stay consistent and be great throughout the whole series."  Until that comic book is in your hands, the future is bright and it could very well be the best comic book you've ever read.  Unfortunately, more often than not, those dreams don't come true.  The comic is published and it was all right, but not at all like what you remembered or what you built it up to be.  But every now and then, once in a while, a comic book is published that not only meets your expectations but exceeds them beyond your wildest dreams.  This week I'm happy to celebrate that for me, that once in a while is today with The New York Five #4.

Now I haven't made my love for the previous graphic novels by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly a secret.  First exposure to this team was on the amazing Local from Oni Press, which not only was one of the best indie mini-series of the 2000s (in my opinion), also gave us one of the most beautiful hardcover collections ever.  Then they teamed up for The New York Four graphic novel in DC's ill-fated Minx line, and I fell in love all over again.  There's something about Wood's ability to tell quiet, personal stories like those in Local and The New York Four, combined with Kelly's artwork that just sung to me.  When they announced a follow up to The New York Four would be published, I was giddy with excitement.  I even talked to Ryan Kelly about the first issue on our Don't Miss podcast, that's how excited I was.  But as the 4 issue mini-series was released, I was faced with that question, "Will this live up to the greatness of their previous work?" It's a question that weighs heavily as I read each issue, month after month.  After reading the final issue today, I'm happy to say that The New York Five not only lived up to my expectations, in some ways it surpassed the original, which is no easy feat.

The New York Five is a story set, not surprisingly, in New York City as we follow four college freshman in their first year at NYU.  From widely different backgrounds and areas, these girls came together in the first volume,The New York Four, as they found themselves and discovered the city.  In The New York Five, we return to this group for the second semester of school and the natural drama and conflicts that come with being a college freshman in the greatest city in the world. In this final issue, we get a mix of tragedy (the kind of tragedy that comes out of nowhere and rocks you) as well as resolution as the semester winds down and the conflicts that were told in this series get resolved in some shape or form.  At it's heart, The New York Five is a teen drama, and while that may not sound compelling with just those words, trust me, it delivers on multiple levels.

One of the highlights of this entire series has been Ryan Kelly's artwork.  We marveled at how he was able to make locations come alive in Local, and then how he applied that great attention to detail in setting to New York in The New York Four, but in The New York Five he takes up a notch.  Kelly's locations and renderings of actual places in New York City are so good, it's ridiculous.  I can take any page of a location in this comic and show it to someone from NYC and they'll immediately know what it's supposed to be.  His cartooning isn't photo-realistic in the least, rather he's clearly looking at photos of these locations, processing them, and then drawing them with as much as heart as the emotions coming from the characters that exist within the story.  It's an amazing balance of how setting works within the story and the characters to support and help drive the story. The main focus of the story, the characters, then are further enhanced by their placement within that setting.  The range of emotions and visual acting of Kelly's figures is something that any up and coming cartoonist should study.  Via visual storytelling, you could peel away the word balloons and just based on character interactions and facial expressions tell nearly exactly what/how that character is feeling at that particular moment.  This may be Ryan Kelly's finest work, and that's after some amazing work on Local, The New York Four and Northlanders.  In this issue, his art is augmented by the talented Jim Rugg who inked a handful of pages.  You can tell when/where Rugg steps in, but by no means does it take away from Kelly's pencils, it almost makes me wish that Kelly and Rugg would work together on a complete book just to see what the results would be, as their styles compliment one another so well.  I could go on and on, but I think you get my point.  The New York Five was an artistic accomplishment for Ryan Kelly, in my humble opinion.

The great thing about comic books is the merging of art and story.  One can't exist without the other and while Ryan Kelly's art in this book floored me, it's Brian Wood's story of these four girls that grabbed me and kept me interested.  Over the past few years, Wood has shown a wide range in style and ability in his stories.  From DMZ to Northlanders to Local to The New York Four/Five. I've always enjoyed Wood's writing because at it's core it has heart.  Whatever the setting or premise, the characters are filled with emotion and that drives their motivations, actions and reactions.  Now, I'll admit to a New York City bias, having grown up on Long Island and spending lots of my formative teen years in the city, I've grown to love the city as much as it's clear that Wood does.  New York City is a living, breathing thing that can be the stage for your finest moments as well as beat the living shit out of you.  It's that wide range of anything being able to happen that makes it so special.  Wood as able to capture, not only the spirit of the city, but what it does to young people as they try to make it there.  He juggled the storylines of each of the 4 girls in such a manner that kept your interested but never lingered too long.  The stories were trimmed (I'm guessing for the 4 issue length of the series) so that sometimes it felt like it was moving fast, but as I read this last issue, I realize that it was as tight as it needed to be to get the moments across. Throughout both series, he nailed capturing the feelings of college freshman starting lives on their own and the challenges that come with that.  In The New York Five #4, Wood was able to bring about resolution for each of the girls, in front of a background of tragedy that honestly made me gasp.  The reactions and emotions of the 4 girls were about as real as it gets and for that, the book was that much stronger.

Now I don't know what the future holds for Wood and Kelly's creation of these 4 girls.  Will we ever see them again? I hope so.  After I finished this issue all I could think of was, "Now THIS is a monthly comic I'd want to read forever!"  Further, if this was developed into a TV show, I would watch the hell out of it.  Wood and Kelly have tapped into something, that at it's base is so simple and yet so true.  I honestly felt like I could have known these girls, that I might have been at the club one of those nights, or had a class with one of them.  Together Wood and Kelly were able to pull me into the story so that I cared for each character and rode the ups and down of what a life in New York City is like.  The New York Five was a special comic book as both an accomplishment for the creators involved, as well as filling a void in the world of comics.  The comic book industry needs books like The New York Five, and this last issue cements that notion.  It's all pretty much summed up by the last page of this issue, as we see photos of the main characters as browsed on a phone, while Wood puts feelings about New York City to words way better than I'll ever be able to, when talking about NYC or this comic: "Once it's in your heart, it'll never leave you."

Ron Richards
Aw, he had to go and put The Smiths in at the end, didn't he?
ron@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. I was slightly dubious picking the first issue of this up, picking it up mainly on being a massive Brian Wood fan, but like you said, it’s been excellent from start to finish (I’ve not read 4 yet though, need to get down the shop and pick up my copy).

     

  2. HOW DARE YOU PICK A BOOK I DON’T READ! IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN (Insert series name here)!

  3. Cool! I’m not usually a big Brian Wood fan (nothing against his writing but generally it just doesn’t click for me) but I loved Local so I thought I would give New Your Four a shot and I loved that as well. Having Ryan Kelly on art certainly doesn’t hurt.

    As such, I am definitely going to pick this up when it comes out in trade. One question though, are these regular sized issues? If so, four issues just seems way to short – it would make it about a third shorter than its predecessor.

    Either way great review, Ron (from what I’ve read anyway – I only skimmed it as I want to know as little as possible about the series before going intoit). It only makes me want to read it more.

  4. I need to buy it

  5. Wait this is out this week too?  Ron you just made my comic week even better.

  6. I just read New York Four a few weeks ago and was absolutely floored by it. I really related to it, since I was also once a college student who was introduced to the wonders that is NYC’s Lower East Side. I’m kinda glad that I read it recently, though, since if I had to wait years for this continuation, I would have been pulling out my hair. I can’t wait to get this trade.

  7. Action Comics #900 is my POW.  As for NY40r5, I will get the tpbs since I really REALLY enjoyed LOCAL. 

    Matthew

  8. looking forward to reading this.

  9. Great pick Ron! To echo your thoughts, the book was a lot better the. It had any right being; and issue 4 completely blew me away.

  10. Loved the first trade and can’t wait to pick this up when it’s collected. Brian Wood is a very underrated writer and his books are consistently excellent. Just finished the most recent tpb of DMZ earlier this week and I was blown away by it.

  11. this was a pretty darn good series, i love ryan kelly, so maybe i was biased. I did kind of wish i read it in trade format though, it seems like a lot of stuff happened between issues which makes it confusing to read monthly. But still, love love love this series.

    Also, Frank is a tool lol

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