Writer & Artist: Brendan Leach
Publisher: Secret Acres
Release Date: August 1, 2013
Iron Bound is sort of the “Leader of the Pack” of comics. Set in early 1960s New Jersey, it follows the violent lives of a small group of motorcycle gang members (they wear the jackets at least, but no one ever rides a bike) and their girlfriends, but the comparison goes beyond the subject matter. Like The Shangri-Las’ song, it’s not too concerned with being neat. Instead, the narrative and art ring raw and busy, rendered in quick and sometimes ugly strokes that capture the passion and mess of being young and stupid.
Leach’s line resembles that of New Yorker cartoonist Ben Katchor, down to the surprisingly detailed backgrounds that contrast with the simple figures. No one is pretty. The men bristle with unglamorous stubble. The women’s butts stick out in funny ways. Noses slash through faces or poke out of profiles as if added on as an afterthought. It can be offputting. But page after page of these characters slouching, pissed off, through the New Jersey night ends up growing on you. They’re not stereotypes. Each is an individual, even if his or her background isn’t fleshed out.
Iron Bound is a focused book. The scope of the story is small and the group of people within is likewise intimate. One could call it provincial, or maybe it’s just about provincialism. It’s about the desire to get out of your small hometown and make something of yourself, and the way your friends keep pulling you back into the tar pit. The climax, which takes place on an ice rink where neither the pugilists nor the pursued wear skates, is a smart scene. It adds an element of greater chaos to a moment that already could go any which way.
All those positives said, Iron Bound is more a work of promise than of genius. A bit more exposition might have been helpful, and some of the plot details are both unclear and not necessarily interesting. The tough girls speckled throughout could have used more face time. And, in the end, following an unhinged character from beginning to end with little surprise is an exercise in frustration. The inevitable may be realistic, but it doesn’t always make for good entertainment. Like most everything that Secret Acres puts out, however, the book is visually complex, thoughtful, and high-reaching.