The relatively recent boom of comics focusing on female friendship and adventures is filling shelves with a type of story that’s previously been relegated to YA. It’s hard to understate the influence that Raina Telgemeier’s success has had on the comic book industry, but just a few years ago the launch of Lumberjanes sent a wave of excitement through readers that had grown accustomed to most monthly titles excluding girls and young women entirely from their pages.
Misfit City is one of the many books that have followed the path forged by Telgemeier and Lumberjanes, a combination of solid characterization, wacky hijinks, and beautiful art that helps to balance the story into something that really stands out. The best of these all-ages comics evoke a lot of the same emotional reactions as classic Saturday morning cartoons; there’s a sense of investment and familiarity in the characters, and while there is a sense of danger to the adventures it’s still relatively lighthearted and moments of comedy help to keep things from getting too heavy. Misfit City Volume One (Boom! Box) is a perfect example of this kind of storytelling, with subjects and shenanigans that are suitable for all ages but subtleties and jokes that grownups will appreciate.
Writers Kirsten Smith and Kurt Lustgarten focus this first volume on setting the stage for their characters and the central mystery that they’ll focus on. Each of the main characters is distinct and robust in an immediate way, easy to tell apart both in appearance and tone. There’s something about the group that evokes the classic magical girl trope: Each of them has a different skill set and personality that helps to create a group where the individuals balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses well.
What’s really fun about Misfit City is that it’s entirely aware of its influences. From the first page, it’s clear that Smith and Lustgarten were influenced by The Goonies and similar movies. Cannon Cove is a seaside town that hosts tourists coming to check out where a fictional movie called The Gloomies was shot, and several of the core cast spend a lot of time mocking and complaining about these rude, dismissive fans who just roll in expecting a movie set instead of a real town with real residents. As the book progresses, it becomes clear that some of the urban myths about pirates and buried treasure aren’t so mythological, and the women find themselves caught up in an adventure that none of them really signed up for.
This would be a fun read no matter what, but Naomi Franquiz’s art really elevates it. Each of the main characters, has a distinct visual style both physically and in terms of their personal sense of style. Franquiz doesn’t fall back on putting the women into the same “uniform” all the time to make sure readers can tell them apart, but their clothes are consistent in aesthetic from page to page and issue to issue. Brittany Peer’s work with the colors give the characters and Cannon Cove a sense of depth and texture that’s really lush and lends a sense of reality to what’s ultimately a very grounded story. There are panels that take advantage of lighthouses and supernatural events to leverage beautifully dramatic lighting, and ultimately the art ends up elevated far beyond what’s expected for an all-ages title.
Fans of books like Lumberjanes and Giant Days should definitely check Misfit City out. It evokes a lot of nostalgia for movies like The Lost Boys and Muppet Treasure Island without being stale, a feat unto itself, and there’s an adorable dog that plays poker.