guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

June 2008
Jamie McKelvie, Suburban Glamour (Image, 2008). 4-issue miniseries, $3.50 each.

By James Moore

For many teenagers there comes a time when they just don’t feel like they belong. The place where they grew up seems small and limiting. They can’t believe that their parents are really their parents. Suburban Glamour, a miniseries by writer/artist Jamie McKelvie, concerns a typical teenage girl, named Astrid, who lives in a small suburb in England that she cannot wait to escape. After some mysterious happenings, she learns that she is in fact a faerie changeling, and on her seventeenth birthday will be able to return to her to her birth family. In the process of discovering her heritage and making her choice, ominous forces pursue her.

McKelivie’s pencils, which were amazing in last years
Phonogram, are the series strongest suite. His work balances a strong grasp of storytelling fundamentals with a hip, contemporary style. McKelvie’s pacing is smooth, with a finely controlled panel rhythm. He draws teenagers that look like real teenagers, and his faerie beings look suitably elegant and alien. His art perfectly captures the energy and wonder of adolescence. There are moments of mania, moments of quiet reflections, and even the supernatural elements reflect the way the world can seem strange and unknowable when on the cusp of adulthood.

McKelvie also brings an eye-catching graphic design sense to the book from its striking wrap-around covers that use variation on similar basic design elements while keeping an individual flavor. His panel composition uses that same design sense, with individual pages having a certain balance and flow despite not sticking to a particular grid (the classic nine-panel grid being one of the more common examples). Primary colorist Matthew Wilson brings a bright, but subtle, palette that fits the pop mood of the story. Color is an essential part of
Suburban Glamour’s storytelling aesthetic, with background color and lighting providing an additional layer of emotional subtext.

As a writer McKelvie shines in portraying his teenage protagonists as actual teenagers and not as either mini-adults or as MTV pod-people. They talk, think, and dress as actual teenagers in the ‘00’s do. Many experienced writers stumble with this, as any issue of
Legion of Superheroes or Robin will attest. It does help that McKelivie is in his twenties and is not far removed from the experiences of Astrid and her friends, but that should not detract from how much talent it takes to capture what it feels like to be sixteen and trapped in a small town without coming off as a bad WB drama. Astrid is one of the most authentic teenage girls in comics today.

McKelivie’s plotting, however, is a little ropier.
Suburban Glamour takes tells a standard tale, and while the ending inverts things somewhat, the plot takes a relatively straightforward path. It is not bad, but it is more than a little predictable. Astrid’s choice about whether to go to Faerie or remain at home makes sense and works on a character level, but lacks dramatic tension. Likewise its story is not exactly the most original idea, even taking into account its roots in folklore and the patterns that structure entails. Taken purely on a conceptual level it almost reads like the sort of story Vertigo would have published a few years ago as a Sandman Presents miniseries.

Fortunately the execution is enjoyable enough to gloss over any imperfections in plot.
Suburban Glamour is funny, charming and wears its emo heart throbbing on its sleeve. Like the teenagers it stars it may be a little awkward but it is so darn likeable. If its story is not new, the tone is fresh and as heartfelt as a Los Compesino!’s single.

It is worth noting that the mini is clearly the opening chapter of a larger story. It is a satisfying enough conclusion and the final page will make you smile, but it leaves the story open enough to continue in further miniseries. McKelvie’s delightful characters and stunning artwork will certainly make the world of Suburban Glamour one worth exploring