By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly
Facebook loves telling me about things my friends “like” on Facebook. Usually I skip by these posts, my eyes glazed over, but then I saw that Terry Blas liked a post by Chad Sell, announcing he had just published Book One of an autobio comic called Vreeland. Comics are one of the few things that always catch my eye, so I clicked over the link.
Vreeland is set in the four years after Sell graduated from college, when he moved to Michigan to take care of his grandparents. The story of taking care of aging grandparents hits close to home for me; I watched the slow deterioration of my maternal grandmother over years after college, and though I wasn’t her primary caretaker by any means, many of those moments I spent alone with her still stick with me. I searched around and found that the first two chapters (which make up Book One) were both published online by Sell.
These chapters are incredible. The pacing is great; the comic lingers on intimate moments between the protagonist and his grandparents, examining the minutia of the lives of the couple, allowing us to see the gestures between the words that convey so much. To break it up, the story flashes to the burgeoning relationship between Sell (the character) and a local guy, which allows for a chance to see him as more than a witness to the story of his grandparents, but intrinsically connected to them, affected by them. The art is done in black and white; so much humanity comes across in this comic with simple shading, choice details, and clean line work.
Sell makes excellent use of the white space of the page. In one scene two characters enter into a hospital examination room that fades away around them; they seem to be floating on the page. It brings your attention to the emotions of the scene rather than the visuals. And at the right moments, we get a detailed full-page spread, reminding us of the rich world that these characters inhabit.
This comic is going on my “buy as soon as possible once you are back in America and get a job” list. It’s $5. It’s gorgeous, sweet, funny and heartbreaking all at once. And it’s only the first book. I can’t wait for the rest.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention some of Sell’s other work.
He has an amazing selection of RuPaul’s Drag Race portraits available for purchase and created some great webcomics that PQ readers might enjoy, including:
Manta-Man: A surreal comic about a struggling superhero who can turn into a super powered manta ray.
Manta-Dad: A prequel to Manta-Man, about Manta-Man’s (for lack of better words) sexy gay dad. This comic is not for kids.
Part-Time Ninja: A spin-off from Manta-Man about his lesbian roommate who is a (part-time) ninja.
The Sorceress Next Door: A story comic about a little boy who wants to be a sorceress.