Octopus Pie: There Are No Stars in Brooklyn
By Meredith Gran
I realized something, sitting here, with a copy of Meredith Gran’s new book in front of me. It’s not exactly earth shattering—not at all, really. In fact, odds are that those who aren’t me will find it, at best, an amusing distraction before diving into the meat of this review. Just to make sure, I tested the hypothesis before sitting down to write anything, plugging the word “likeable” into a search of this site. Two instances written by me, one of which was preceded by the words “not very.”
It’s not as though I have aversion to the word. I like “likeable.” I do. Okay, it’s not a great word, but it’s a sturdy one, certainly. It gets the job done, quickly, neatly, with minimal fuss. I think the issue here is, quite frankly, that I haven’t found too many opportunities to use it. That’s not to say that I don’t have the pleasure of reading plenty of good, great, gripping, poetic, funny, and generally wonderful comics for this site, it’s just that the books—or perhaps more appropriately, the characters who populate them—aren’t “likeable,” in the strictest sense.
This isn’t a necessary a bad thing. Shitty characters—which is to say, well-written but morally or emotionally suspect—often make for the best reading. The connivers, the fuckups, the borderline sociopaths—these are the characters who populate some of our best fiction. They’re compelling, certainly, and while they’re likely the last people you’d want to answer your roommate ad on Craiglist, but they’re pretty fun for an afternoon’s reading.
Meredith Gran, on the other hand, has a knack for the likeable. Her characters are lousy with the stuff—that’s not to say that they aren’t fuckups in their own right, but let’s be honest, who wants to surround themselves with people who are leading far more successful and fulfilling lives?
I’d be lying if I said that I was particularly familiar with Octopus Pie before receiving a copy of There Are No Stars in Brooklyn. I’ve met Gran a few times at various indie conventions, and I’ve heard nothing but nice things about the strip, but for whatever reason (perhaps my extremely limited attention span when it comes to reading comics on a computer screen), I’d never dug too deeply into it.
Between the title she’d chosen for the volume, the framing of a rather pensive looking protagonist on the cover, and the fact that Gran herself has since moved roughly as far away from the five boroughs as one can possibly get while still living in the contiguous United States, I genuinely anticipated a soul crushing—if humorous—view of her former home.
There is some of that, certainly—stolen bikes, shitty jobs, annoyingly misguided hipster folk. All par for the course for a 20-something living in the big city—particularly the one in question. Gran puts her characters through the wringer, to be sure, but ultimately the artist seems to feel a genuine kinship for Eve and Hannah and the like—after all, at one point no doubt was them, more or less.
The result is a fun and wholly enjoyable read, and after a few pages, there’s no question why Gran’s strips caught on as quickly as they did. The cartoonist clearly pours much of herself into Octopus Pie, drawing a cast of characters and storylines that will likely prove more than a little familiar for anyone who struggled to survive their post-collegiate 20s in a big city. And as in life, struggles rarely come without at least a little reward.
Even at its darkest, it’s hard to despair too much, given Gran’s rather cheery art. The Bryan Lee O’Malley quote that graces the book’s back cover is no coincidence. Like O’Malley’s work, Gran’s art is clearly influenced more than a little by a number of manga tropes. Toward the end of this volume, Gran branches out from the clean curves that define most of the book, experimenting with a thinner, shaky-lined style, a choice that’s promising, if a touch distracting, given its abrupt shift from pages that preceded it.
Octopus Pie’s traditional strip nature is also a bit distracting when reading the work as a single volume. While each strip contributes to the overall story line, the one punchline-per-page method doesn’t make for a particularly fluid reading experience in print. The story, too, tends to jump around due to the format, though Gran’s pacing does noticeably improve as the book progresses.
The ultimate goal of a good serialized Webcomics, after all, is laying down the bricks of a much grander story. And thankfully, from the looks of it, Octopus Pie is only getting started.