Review by Allen Rubinstein
Storytellers inevitably hone in on one or two genres that suit their writing and artists find their themes and style – their “voice”. Kyle Baker is a cartoonist who seems to have no boundaries, gliding from one arena to the next, entertaining his readers and making it look effortless. Among other projects, he’s fully produced a crackerjack piece of urban comedy, a slapstick farce, a deadly serious depiction of a slave revolt, an Iraq war satire, a set of single panel gags based on his own family and a mind-blowing adaptation of an Old Testament story. It’s an amazing career he’s carved out for himself, and nearly every piece succeeds. The man is a slam bang home run hitter.
You Are Here is Baker’s romantic comedy adventure about Noel Coleman, a painter living in upstate New York, preparing to marry his girlfriend Helen, a granola-fed redhead who has conversations with passing deer, never drinks or smokes and has an unbridled love of sunsets. The only problem is that Noel has been lying for past year, covering up his past as a once professional thief, womanizer and jailbird. In Noel’s Manhattan existence everyone lies about who they are, so he told Helen, “A bunch of b******,” to get her into bed and ended up falling in love with her.
When Noel returns to “The City” to clear out his apartment (everyone assumes he’s been doing time), Helen drops in for a surprise visit, pressing Noel into deeper sit-com-style cover-ups. That same day, a crazed killer, drawn by Baker as a ringer for Robert Mitchum at his most sinister, is released from prison and sets out to kill the man (three guesses) who slept with his wife (whom he then murdered). The rest is a tense, funny collection of action set pieces and character beats.
While not giving up its fundamental adherence to being comics, You Are Here is as close to a mainstream cinema experience that a humour comic can be. Baker mixes wacky hijinks with genuine suspense, bawdy humor (some nudity and comic sexual situations) witty repartee, a sense of real menace from the antagonist and just a bit of pathos. Thematically, it revolves around philosophical differences between Helen’s embrace-the-moment sunniness vs. Noel’s experience-hardened cynicism. Instead of making Helen a trite “manic pixie dream girl” to rescue Joel from his hard life, it’s clear that the couple is wrong for one another from the start, and it takes one day’s tour of New York being chased by a maniac to make them aware of it. There are a few shocking moments by the end, which show real violence.
Baker likes to work quickly, so he relies on computer backgrounds and colouring, and he runs the dialogue, sound effects and narration underneath the panels instead of inside the art, increasing the story’s cinematic feel. It’s among the oddest coloured books you’ll come across, replete with indigo, lime green and orange-red and darker sequences that almost grey those out. The faces are a mix of semi-realistic and broad caricature, which fits well with some of the zany exploits. The sum of these elements will not be for everyone, but in what is essentially a farce, the artificiality works in its favor. Baker, in what was meant as a “return” to comics after Why I Hate Saturn eight years earlier, is a confident guide, running us through an urban romp that would suit any rom-com fan.
This is available to read for free on Baker’s website, but surely you prefer the actual book.