96 pgs. B&W | $10 | W / A: Sean Knickerbocker
Killbuck is not a town that’s easy to escape. It’s one of those desolate rural towns with little for an impressionable youth to do but work a shitty job, smoke some shitty pot, and get up to no good simply to have something to do. In that spirit, a trio of teen boys hikes through the snowy woods to a cabin that’s empty for a few more months until snowbird season kicks in. They break in, drink the owner’s beers, make fun of his taste in music, invite some girls over, the girls figure out the score, they leave. No one scores, but some new friendships are found. Shitty jobs are worked, shitty pot is smoked, and everything is done to avoid that one horrible question: what are you going to do after you graduate?
The back cover of Killbuck describes the book as “a coming-of-age glance,” which is just about spot-on. A coming-of-age “story” would imply that there is some sort of narrative to be found in these pages, which is not really the case. Sure, things happen in the book, but the action occurs in vignettes, tiny “glances” that reveal subtle truths of the characters without ever building to anything substantial that ties these scenes into anything overarching, thematically or narratively.
The fact that the story never really goes anywhere is neither positive nor negative, merely a statement of fact. If you’re in the mood for that kind of freeform, Dazed and Confused-esque narrative, Killbuck certainly offers up a captivating enough read. Sean Knickerbocker has a fine ear for dialogue; his characters have attitude and personality sure to resonate with anyone who hung out at the burnout table in their high school cafeteria. Some scenes resonate for their humor, like when an unannounced trip to the pot dealer’s pot dealer turns super awkward. Others resonate for the emotional tone they hit, like when a kid named Eric who is abused by his brother later takes an attempt at peer pressuring his friend too far when a hunting rifle gets involved.
Knickerbocker’s unadorned art style suits the stories well. His characters have a rubbery cartooniness that makes them simple yet recognizable; St. Louis comics fans may find similarities in the style of Ted May’s work in Injury Comics. The storytelling is clear and concise, sticking primarily to a six-panel grid outside the occasional establishing shot. There isn’t a lot of variability in the thickness of Knickerbocker’s linework, but he expertly deploys graytones to give his illustrations depth and really make them pop. In a neat visual trick, the cover is colored similarly but with shades of blue. The effect makes the insides of the book feel like they are black, white, and blue when they really aren’t. The blue hues, real and imagined, fit the wintry expanses of Killbuck to a T.
Killbuck’s lack of a throughline narrative is its biggest weakness, though one that’s only a weakness if that’s what you look for in a graphic novel. Those looking to spend time with some misfits fumbling their way in the general direction of adulthood will likely find these coming-of-age tales worth the “glance.” | Jason Green