Writers: Tom and Nimue Brown
Artist: Tom Brown
What hath Neil Gaiman wrought? It’s not that there wasn’t a space for Goth on the mainstream edge before his resounding success, but there’s no question that that fantasy icon broadened its place at the table. Married couple Tom and Nimue Brown clearly take inspiration from Gaiman, but don’t quite reach the level of of the dream king’s storytelling, even with its weaknesses (a tendency to work with corny artists, a questionable taste level, the idealization of young women as saviors).
Hopeless, Maine exists as a webcomic where its narrative is further along, but the print book works better as a gift to pass along to your mopey tweens. The story takes place on an island off the coast of Maine that exists in a world of dark and damp, populated by monsters, witches, and an orphanage full of dour children. One of these, Salamandra, who has plenty of magic of her own, encounters a little girl who claims to be an imaginary friend but hints at more menacing origins. Tom provides the illustrations, which are clearly the weaker half of the equation. Fuzzy (to cast a candlelight effect?), gray, and full of characters with big eyes and full lips, his figures can move at a stuttering pace. The dialogue is also overlaid in awkward ovals and circles, disrupting the intended Victorian feel.
A lot of what happens in Hopeless, Maine is fairly hokey and predictable, straight out of the book of Lovecraft (though toned down for younger audiences), and could have used a better editorial eye. Despite these complaints, this introductory volume creates an interesting world that remains surprisingly readable. The Browns imbue their characters with intelligence and will, which helps considerably, and cliches often persist for good reason. There’s also a pleasant spookiness at play, as well as threats of genuine peril that up the game. Much as you might hate to admit it, you’ll probably want to find out what happens next.