Okay, fair enough, in purely chronological terms it may have only encompassed a handful of days, and in purely geographic terms it may have only taken us from Baltimore to Milwaukee and back again, but it certainly feels like we’ve been on quite a journey with the nerd/outcast clique at the heart of Colin Lidston’s sublime The Age Of Elves series from Paper Rocket Mini Comics, and in purely emotional terms it’s fair to say that we have — and so it’s only fitting, as this remarkably heartfelt, but decidedly unvarnished, look at the lives of high school “geeks” comes to a close, that the focus is squarely on Sara, the most fleshed-out character of the group and our “entry point” as readers from word go. Yes, this is an ensemble-cast story after a fashion, but it’s really been her story all along, and as such hers is the only “arc” of the bunch demanding some semblance of closure.
Not that anything ever really ends, to paraphrase Alan Moore (the original quote being one Sara and her friends doubtless know quite well), but great leaps forward — or great leaps anywhere — can often happen quite quickly, or follow each other in rapid succession, as Sara learns to both her potential detriment and enlightenment here in #5, and to say Lidston handles it with a deft touch would be to sell the breadth and scope of what he’s achieved with this series criminally short. Look, Im just gonna call it like it is : Sara’s is the most raw, honest, and compelling character study I’ve seen in comics in a hell of a long time — and I read more comics than anybody else I know by a frigging mile.
Heavy praise, then, to be sure, but it’s also entirely earned. Like Lidston himself I’m not prone to hyperbole or exaggeration (a compliment that applies to both his naturalist writing and wonderfully subtle and evocative art — a twitch of a nose or a glance toward the floor speaks volumes in his visual language), and that’s never been more crucial than it is in this series finale, as a volley of less-than-ideal events force our erstwhile heroine to walk a razor-wire strung taut between dejection on the one side and revelation on the other. Whether we’re talking about showing her portfolio to her artist idol and getting a less-than-hoped-for response, making her cosplay debut (as Neil Gaiman’s Death) in a suddenly-hostile environment, or facing down an awkward “friend-crush” she wants no part of, the cumulative effect of the last day at GenCon and an overly-long drive home is one of slow-dawning realization on Sara’s part that her solitary place within an otherwise all-male social group is a more precarious one that she’d probably felt like facing up to previously. And while it would be all too easy to sum this up as “growing up is hard to do, and the surging testosterone of your friends doesn’t make it any easier,” if there’s one thing Lidston’s never done it’s reach for low-hanging fruit. Instead, what we have here is the culmination of a coming-of-age narrative that does its central figure the honor of being her own authentic self at all times, even as she openly struggles to discover precisely who that is and what it means to be her.
There’s lots of talk these days about “sticking the landing,” and while there’s absolutely no need to worry on that score here, it’s worth noting that I didn’t allude to Dr. Manhattan’s “nothing ever ends” line for no reason : Sara’s story well and truly doesn’t end, it just evolves to place where we’re ready — difficult as it is — to let both it and her go. I’d welcome a follow-up at some future date, sure, just to see where everyone ended up and what they ended up doing, but it’s hardly necessary : wherever Sara’s life takes her, she’s going to handle it. Sometimes she’ll handle it better than at other times, sure, but that’s true for us all. Lidston has taken her this far, now it’s on her — which admittedly sounds horribly pretentious given that we’re talking about a fictional character here, but read this final chapter and tell me you don’t feel like you know Sara a hell of a lot better than some of the actual, flesh-and-blood people in your life.
Truth be told, though, I sotra feel like I’m embarrassing myself at this point — and I certainly hope against hope that I’m not embarrassing Lidston — but I assure you accolades this unqualified don’t come naturally to me. I’ve looked and looked for some reason to dial this review back to standard “damn this was good stuff” levels, but I’m coming up empty. Taken in total, this really was a perfect comic book series and it leaves (notice I didn’t say “ends”) on a perfect note. I’m not impressed, then, I’m legit awestruck, and there’s no shame in admitting that as far as I’m concerned.
I’m not sure whether or not Robyn Chapman at Paper Rocket plans to publish a collected edition of this comic or not, but somebody needs to, and frankly the sooner the better. This is work that richly deserves to be read by as broad and large an audience as possible, so if I have one wish for 2021, that’d be it right there. Thank you Colin, thank you Robyn, and thank you Sara. This crusty old critic is in love with comics all over again — like never before.
The Age Of Elves #5 is available for $5.00 from the Paper Rocket storenvy site at https://thetinyreport.storenvy.com/products/31377928-the-age-of-elves-5
Review wrist check – Raven “Trekker 39” yellow dial/black ceramic bezel model riding a Crown & Buckle black (okay, they call it “obsidian,” but whatever) Chevron adjustable strap.