Review by Frank Plowright
Three pages of Emma Vieceli’s neat skteches accompanying character assessments of the main cast ease us back into Breaks after a creatively accomplished first volume. That ended with the mutual realisation that being rivals for several years has only been the camouflage for the attraction between seventeen year olds Ian Tanner and Cortland Hunt. So now what happens? Ian and Cortland are very different, co-writers Vieceli and Malin Rydén establishing Ian as the smart-mouthed wit, while Cortland’s the brooding bad boy with mysteries to his past and a social worker in his life.
Over the first half of this continuation problems needing dealt with are left to fester as Vieceli and Rydén ramp up Irena from her previous background role as Cortland’s friend and sounding board. They simultaneously keep twisting tension tighter via honing in on the inability of teenagers to talk to others about their problems, let alone adults. Adult presence, though, is kept to the minimum of the occasional encouraging voice. A neat reversal is applied as we learn more about Ian, whose glib personality conceals as much hurt as Cortland’s simmering aggression. That anyone reading will develop a knot in their stomach is testament to how good the writing is. It jumps into those wedges between people, where no-one is to blame, but everyone’s going to be hurt. Perhaps the paper stock should have been shades of grey instead of sepia. As before, though, it’s not just the writing. Vieceli’s art carries so much, her expressions phenomenally good, yet so simple, a dab of shadow here, eyes to the right there.
When the backgrounds come tumbling out they’re every bit as traumatic as foreshadowed, explaining how Ian and more specifically Cortland view the world, and how it’s mistreated them. It’s a heartbreaking glimpse into the past, rooted in realism, and a condemnation of how current British justice systems are sometimes inadequate. It is ultimately sensational, but sensitively handled rather than ripped from today’s screaming headlines.
A story reaching the big revelations and the consequent fallout often precedes a dip, with the creators unsure of where to direct the characters afterwards. That doesn’t happen with Breaks, and the final act here is exactly what’s needed, the pub catharsis, which also cements the idea that some people can move on, while others remain haunted by their past.
Over two graphic novels so far Breaks has been consistently engaging drama, sensitive and observant. It may seem the story has been completed, but that discounts the terrible statement still dangling from the first volume’s second page. Vieceli’s blog promises a trilogy, so there’s another instalment due, which is great news.