And here we are at the end of this overly long series. Luckily, we’ve been looking at some great books here. That always is a good thing in my opinion. The final book of this series is called “Refresh, Refresh,” which was written and drawn by Danica Novgorodoff (based on a screenplay by James Ponsoldt, itself based on a short story by Benjamin Percy).
Of the three books I read for this series, “Refresh, Refresh” was unfortunately the weakest.
This can’t be placed solely on Novgorodoff’s shoulders. She is doing an adaptation of an adaptation, which I imagine is like making a copy of a copy in that the original picture loses a little bit of itself in every transition. That’s what this book feels like. There is more to it that, for some reason or another, has been lost. There is also the problem of the vast majority of American storytellers have had a hard time figuring out how to tell contemporary war stories. I don’t want to make it sound like this book is awful, it just suffers from the problem of so many other books in that it could’ve been so much more.
The story takes place in Oregon and focuses on three friends: Josh, Cody, and Gordon. The main character among these three is Josh, with most of the story centering around him. In their small town, the destiny of most boys is to become soldiers. All three of these guys have fathers who are overseas at war. Over the course of the book, the three boys (all just shy of 18) come to terms with what this means for their future and their own manhood.
The problem with the story is that the characters and events seem to be window dressings for the message Novgorodoff is trying to push across: war and military affects everyone, not just the soldiers. The only thing is that there is a message that, to me, seems to shine through much more clearly in this book: How do you become a man when there are no men around? And this weird identity crisis gets in the way of the story being presented.
Novgorodoff’s art, regardless of my feelings on the story, is amazing. Her penciled work is great. Its messy, but not in a detrimental way, but a way that makes the pictures look organic, like the movement is real and happening on the page. Hair never falls the same way. Blood and bruises keep flowing and developing. The boys sit and walk like actual awkward 17 year olds, not even confident around each other. But no more is Novgorodoff’s art shown off as well as it is in some of the final, haunting pages that are done in dark watercolor. Reminicent of Ashley Wood and Ben Templesmith, these few pages are nothing short of beautiful.
I’m still trying to hunt down Percy’s original short story. It won a good deal of critical acclaim, so it is easy to see why the adaptation was concieved. But I’d like to see it side-by-side with the comic. Not only to see what is lost, but perhaps to see if anything was gained. Novgorodoff has a way of bringing the reader in with her art and the benefit of reading this book is that I am excited to hunt down what else she has done. I am really curious to see where she can go with her own idea and not be held back by adapting someone else’s story. I believe that she presents her ideas strongly and her art is striking, but I can’t help but place her in the same spot as her main character. What she did was noble, but I see that she is capable of more. According to her website, this is her fourth graphic novel and I don’t think this will be her last. If you want to see the beginning of a good storyteller, check out “Refresh, Refresh.”
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