November, a collaboration between Portland comics writer Matt Fraction and French artist Elsa Charretier, came out earlier this month; tonight, Fraction will be at Books with Pictures to celebrate its release. It's a release worth celebrating: November is good, and even if it feels like the start of something larger (probably because it is the start of something larger), it's well worth digging into. I've read this first volume—subtitled The Girl on the Roof—three times now, and on the upside, each time I've found new details and nuance. On the downside, it'll run you $17 for 80 pages of story, which stings a bit when one realizes this volume is merely the beginning of a promising tale.
In the Milkfed Criminal Masterminds newsletter that Fraction sends out with his wife, author Kelly Sue DeConnick, Fraction described November as "the first in a short series of interconnecting hardcover graphic novellas" and "a heavy formalist character drama dropped into a noir world of crime, paranoia, and people pushed to their limits," and, yep, that's pretty much dead on.
After kicking off with "No!," the darkly funny poem from Thomas Hood ("No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,/No comfortable feel in any member—/No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,/No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,/November!"), each panel of November aches with that promised sense of paranoia. Fraction and Charretier follow three women—a deadbeat with a suspiciously easy, suspiciously lucrative job; a stressed, anxious 911 dispatcher, and a woman who, while delivering groceries to a friend, finds a loaded handgun on the street—and as connections start to emerge between them and their cold, harsh city, the overall feel of November grows increasingly dark. (Hey, just like how real-life November makes you feel like your soul is dying a little more each day! Neat!)
As usual, Fraction's writing is sharp and smart, with the whipping back-and-forth dialogue working particularly well here. But it's Charretier's fluid art that feels like the true heart of the book. November plays with noir conventions—and comics ones, too, with many of its pages sticking to a 12-panel grid—but each page still manages to feel fresh and unpredictable thanks to clever, unexpected angles and quick, natural movement. Charretier captures subtle, affecting emotions with the same ease as chaotic, dour cityscapes; regardless of scale, all of it's gorgeous to look at. (Colorist Matt Hollingsworth, who's also doing remarkable work on Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña's mind-twisting fantasy comic Seven to Eternity, also deserves a shout out.)
"I am but like everyone else. One part of a much larger design," says one character near the end of this volume. "We're all parts of a machine we cannot see. A system. All of us have our function." That's certainly true for November's characters, but that sense of an unknown larger design also echoes the choice readers will face when it comes to picking up this first installment. Get a taste of Fraction and Charretier's story now, or wait until more has been told? The only wrong choice, I think, would be to not read it at all.