Writers: Greg Means and M.K. Reed
Artist: Joe Flood
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: November 12, 2013
If you pitched The Cute Girl Network as a collaboration among a first-time comics writer (Greg Means), indie writer M.K. Reed (best known for Americus and web series About a Bull), and the artist behind the underwhelming Orcs (Joe Flood), you wouldn’t get a ton of takers. It wouldn’t even sound like the beginning of a joke where a bunch of dissimilar folks walk into a bar. But the creator’s disparate styles have fondued together into what is, at least for the lactose tolerant, the equivalent of a delicious pot of melted cheese: warm, delightful, and occasionally surprising with plenty of kissing.
Here’s the premise. New girl in town (a Portland-Brooklyn hybrid) Jane wipes out on her skateboard in front of Jack, an amiable doofus who works at a soup cart. They hit it off. They hang out a bit. They seem to really like each other. Then they run into a mutual acquaintance who warns Jane off and tells her of the existence of the titular network in question, a group of young women formed to share information “about all the spazzes, dorks, tools, freaks, perverts, losers and dumbass boys in the city and to prevent yet another awesome girl from falling for yet another lame guy.” A quest results, wherein Jane talks to a number of Jack’s previous sweeties in an effort to do her research. Mild suspense ensues. Will she stick to her guns or end up swayed by his past (and legion) idiocies?
Flood’s artwork is not what could be described as minimalist. Looking at a full page can be almost tiring. He fills every corner with pattern and background detail. A single panel might contain: four women sitting around a kitchen table bearing drinks, a salad, plates, a casserole, condiments, etc. Each woman each holds a book; the kitchen where they sit is viewed at an angle, with a black-and-white tiled floor, floral wallpaper below a chair rail, a tiled backsplash behind the range; each chair is designed differently; Jane waits in the doorway, with the door and a washer-dryer combo visible; there are two dish towels hanging on the handle of the oven; an industrial metal storage unit holds dry goods. That visual audit doest even even include everything, and there are four other panels on the page. It’s a strange kind of excess, one that isn’t aiming to be showy, just kind of compulsively complete.
In contrast, although Flood’s characters are fully rendered, they have an appealing simplicity. Many don’t have pupils. Facial features are established in a few quick lines. Clothing receives far more detail, but expressiveness doesn’t suffer. Network supports a nicely-varied cast, in terms of ethnicity, body type, and personality, and the book has things to say beyond its immediate plot, with a strong undercurrent encouraging the reader to go his or her own way and to treat others with respect. The writing is sharp and funny, with a fine Twilight parody scattered throughout and bonused in the last few pages. The book seems, on the whole, like an excellent thing to give to your teenage daughter/cousin/sister who reads Rookie and has a mind of her own.