Suburban Glamour trade paperback review
Seb reviews Jamie McKelvie's semi-autobiographical story about growing up in a small Midlands town and realising you're a fairy
Suburban Glamour is a book of firsts. Not only is it the first series written by up-and-coming superstar artist Jamie McKelvie, and the first full-colour work he’s produced; it’s also quite probably the first mainstream American-published series to take place in a sleepy Worcestershire town, to use the phrase “fucking emos”, and to have a teenage girl wallop a lizard demon thing around the chops with a Fender P-Bass. This is what happens when you mix Gaimanesque fantasy with smart hip British teens, I guess.
You’d never guess that McKelvie was a first time writer, though. Perhaps it’s the influence of collaborators such as Kieron Gillen (with whom he first made his name, on the truly superb music-meets-magic series Phonogram) and Matt Fraction, but there’s already an assured confidence to his storytelling. The core story elements upon which he draws are hardly among the most original – bored teenager, yearning for more than her mundane suburban life, makes shocking discovery about her background and is exposed to a world of magic and faeries – but he does so with flair, and a genuinely contemporary twist.
The likeability of his lead characters helps – perhaps Astrid and Dave are a little too unattainably attractive, cool and nice, but the time spent in their company is enjoyable, and McKelvie already has a knack for sharp one-liners. Counterbalancing the fantasy elements are sequences that help to flesh out the characters themselves and their day-to-day lives – and if the speech patterns feel a little Americanised, perhaps it’s just that this reviewer isn’t as down with the kids as your average Skins fan; although what they do serve to do is make those comparisons with Buffy all the more evident (in fact, one website review of the first issue managed to not even catch that the series was set in the UK).
If there’s a wobble in the structure at all, it comes in the third issue – you’re left feeling that far too much has been crammed in to adequately resolve in the fourth and final chapter, and it’s difficult to see where things are really going. As it happens, though, in that final part the story turns out to have been about something rather different all along – and we’re left with a (quite literally) uplifting ending that simultaneously wraps up this story and lays the groundwork for future series. Indeed, the whole thing winds up feeling like the first arc of an ongoing series, rather than a self-contained story by itself – and it leaves you hoping for more in the future.
As good as McKelvie’s writing is, though, let’s not pretend that the main draw is anything other than his artwork, which gets better and better with every new project. While there’s nothing wrong with black-and-white art, of course, it’s hard to deny that his work looks even more vibrant and beautiful with the addition of colour. That said, there’s been a clear progression in his storytelling ability not just since Phonogram, but even as the four parts of this series have gone on. He’s increasingly comfortable handling action – there are only a handful of dramatic beats in the story, rather than prolonged sequences, but they play well, particularly with some neat instances of panel construction. The character design is superb – it’s true that perhaps some of his faces do look similar to one-another (a consequence of his minimal line use, maybe), but he makes up for this with a superb grasp of facial expression that invites comparison to the likes of Steve Dillon. And littered throughout the series are pages that you’ll want to just take out and put on your wall, including two particularly stunning examples of landscape.
While not particularly groundbreaking or unmissable, and while it’s perhaps a little too short to truly flourish (six issues would have been nice), Suburban Glamour is nevertheless a hugely enjoyable read. Irrespective of whether or not the fantastical elements are your cup of tea, there’s plenty to engage with for anyone who can identify with the idea of feeling isolated and trapped by small-town life throughout their teens. And visually, there’s little out there to match it in comics at the moment – if nothing else, it’s worth grabbing hold of as another step in the rise of someone surely destined to become one of the industry’s brightest stars.