Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Finder Library Volume 1

by Carla Speed McNeil

I don't understand how it is that until this last year, I'd not been aware of Finder.  The series has been around since 1997, and while self-published, and therefore maybe a little hard to find in all comics shops, it has garnered a great deal of praise.  Perhaps I had heard of it, but I'm sure I'd never seen it before Dark Horse released the original graphic novel Voice, which I read a while back, and then reprinted the entire series to date in the two volumes of The Finder Library.

I think I've come across my new favourite comic.  This first volume contains twenty-two issues of the comic, and weighs in at 590 pages of comics, with a solid forty more pages of notes.  And trust me, you'll need the notes - this is one complex piece of work.

Finder is about the denizens of Anvard, a very old domed city.  It's so old that no one remembers who built the dome, or how it works.  Now millions of people live crammed into its space, on multiple levels (some never seeing any light) and on three shifts, so that their world can function more efficiently.  Anvardian society is divided into clans of people who share similar traits (the Llaveracs, the most prominent in this comic, all appear female, regardless of their actual gender) or similar career functions (the Medawars, of secondary importance in this comic, run the police, the army, and the medical professions).  Non-members of clans, or people of mixed parentage, inhabit lowlier levels of society.  Among the lowest are the Ascians, a nomadic group that live outside the domes, and are basically analogues to Native Americans.  The lowliest of the Ascians are the Sin-Eaters, people who take on the regrets and mistakes of others.  There is also a secretive order of Finders, who may be seen as scouts, and who are highly regarded.

The central character of this book is Jaeger, both Finder and Sin-Eater, a half-breed with no real home and an endless sense of wanderlust.  Jaeger has always been close to the Grosvenor family, who share the spotlight with him.  Emma Grosvenor is a Llaverac beauty, while her ex-husband Brigham, is a Medawar.  Emma and their children, Rachel, Lynne (a boy), and Marcie were all badly abused by Brigham, who had kept them confined for years as a method of controlling them, before they finally escaped.  Now, Brigham is out of jail and wants to find his family, and Jaeger, who feels he owes a debt to both sides, is trying to keep everyone safe.  That makes up the first half of this book, in the story called Sin-Eater.

It is followed by King of the Cats, a much lighter and funnier story, that involves Jaeger attempting to aid in the peace negotiations between a number of bands of his people and the Nyima, a lion-like people who are their traditional enemies.  Most of this action takes place in another domed city, Munkyland, a Disneyworld gone horribly wrong.  This story is very amusing, while it also shines a different light on Jaeger.

The final story, Talisman, is incredible.  It focuses on Marcie, the youngest Grosvenor child, her love of books and writing, and the irreparable sense of loss caused by her mother having thrown out her only book when she was young.  I think any reader would be able to relate to this beautiful story about the hazards of the creative process.

Carla Speed McNeil is a much more incredible cartoonist than I'd have given her credit for being based simply on the Finder stories being published in Dark Horse Presents.  This book is endlessly layered and textured with hundreds of madcap ideas and distractions, yet she is able to transport some very nuanced stories about human nature into her fantastical world without missing a step.  The notes in the back of the book are essential, but not because she isn't able to tell her story with the comics alone.  The notes act as a window into this fully realized world she has created, and allow her to make things as rich as she possibly can.

Reading a book this thick can become a chore at times, but instead, I found myself willfully slowing down my reading, so as to savour every panel.  I'm thankful that I have the second volume already waiting for me on a shelf, and while I'm excited to read it, I am going to give it some time, as when that is done, all that will be left to read of this series are the wonderful (but now woefully inadequate) eight pages a month in Dark Horse Presents.

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