Finder Volume 8: Five Crazy Women by Carla Speed McNeil. Lightspeed Press. 2006. 128 p., $15.95.
The latest volume of Finder is the eighth. I’ve only read three of the other volumes, but I’ve been following along online for the past months (almost a year now). As far as I can tell, the series is not working within a direct continuity, rather each book expands upon the world and the characters. One can pick up any volume (that I’ve seen) and follow along at a certain level. As one reads the other volumes, their interconnecting elements enrich each individual story.
Like much science fiction, Finder is about world building and sociology (that McNeil calls it “aboriginal science fiction” will tell you something). The richness of the world she has created is astounding. It plays upon the friction between our world/culture/experiences and those of the characters in the story and their fictional world/culture/experiences. This could be very dry were it not for the depth of the characters McNeil created, particularly the protagonist (at least in three of the four I’ve read) Jaeger Ayers, a outsider in many ways. He comes from a culture that one might consider more “native” than the urbanites we most see him interacting with, but he also holds the ritualistic “sin-eater” position in his culture (a kind of scapegoat), which sets him apart from them. Jaeger’s outsider status helps the reader enter the world, as the reader is also an outsider. The interaction between the outsider Jaeger and other characters and our reading as outsiders to the fictional world is a powerful method for bringing the reader into the world and keeping them engaged.
The story in this volume follows Jaeger through the meeting or remeeting of a number of women (mostly sexual partners (or possible ones)), the eponymous women of the title. That they are ‘crazy” is indubitable as is the fact that his behavior is no more normal. This is not an action-packed science fiction adventure, there is a lot of conversation and character interaction. Most of it is narrated by Jaeger as he hangs out in bars with a friend of his. It is intelligently written, occasionally humorous.
McNeil’s art is a combination of strong dynamic lines for delineation and thin hatching for shade, tone, and pattern. Her panels display an excellent sense of composition with liberal use of white space. She doesn’t crowd her panels except where crowding is what is required. The page layouts are dynamic, utilizing pages of regular panels then breaking out into large splash pages. open, unbordered panels, or other layouts that work with the story to enhance the reading and pace the narrative. McNeil is an accomplished and skilled comics artist. Her style has visibly improved since the first volume, becoming more precise and minimal.
One of the most interesting things about Finder is the notes that McNeil adds to the end of the book. Almost every page has some annotation which brings out further details of the fictional world, the characters, the connections between stories, as well as details on the act of creation or its creator (McNeil). I see the annotations as integral to the comic. One can read and enjoy the comic without the annotations but only at a certain level of understanding and appreciation. When one rereads, flipping back and forth between the comics pages and the annotations, one’s understanding of the story is expanded and deepened. The annotations create a depper reading experience.
Some might say that this is a failing of the story itself, but I’d argue that it is a strength. While, annotations to stories often feel superfluous or tacked on as an afterthought, McNeil’s notes draw out the story. It’s just another way of handling the image/word interaction of comics, another way the images and the text are integrated with each other, one requiring the other.
This is the first volume of Finder that was not completely serialized in pamphlet form. Last year McNeil switched over to serializing the story one page at a time on her website. I’ve been reading Five Crazy Women that way, but it was only in the book form with the notes that I really felt engrossed in the story and began to really understand what was going on. That’s the “value added” element of the book.
The first 30 or so pages of this book was previously issue 30 of Finder, which is not online, but you can start reading the rest of the book (which began as issue 38) at the Lightspeed Press site. Page through a bit, immerse yourself in the world and the art. It’s worth the time.