Review by Frank Plowright
While young adult graphic novels have been a massive growth area since 2015, there’s been very little representation for the corresponding growth of LBGT themed young adult novels. Breaks doesn’t exactly stand alone, but despite being in a sparsely populated field, it’s a work of perception and depth. Better still, it’s an honest to goodness romantic drama, another genre very rare in comics these days.
Emma Vieceli and Malin Rydén collaborate on the writing, selecting Ian Tanner as the narrative voice. He downplays it, but he’s a promising runner, and at seventeen still coming to terms with who he is. He likes the spiky Cortland Hunt who transferred to his school three years previously, the only person not intimidated by school thug Kyle Spencer. Girlfriends feature, Amilah significantly from halfway, but the opening pages make it clear Breaks is building toward Ian and Cortland’s relationship. The first half is a slow simmer introducing the cast, their personalities and a mystery surrounding Cortland’s past. Details with later relevance are unobtrusively sifted in, and the dialogue is smart and funny, if sometimes too obviously clever for even confident teenagers.
Despite the back cover quotes, Emma Vieceli isn’t as widely appreciated as she should be for the subtlety and sensitivity of both her writing and her art, here evocatively sepia-toned. She supplies so much with a glance, or in Spencer’s case a glare. He falls behind in terms of dialogue, not being quick-witted enough to compete, so resorting to a threatening default, but the expressions Vieceli gives him indicate there’s more going on. Because much of Breaks is founded on tension it needs someone as skilled as she is to bring that out, and while a lesser artist could have supplied the gist, she makes us believe.
A quibble? Soaring Penguin might have sharpened the credits, specifying who’s responsible for the writing and for the art. English language comics generally credit the writer first, so anyone picking this up unfamiliar with the creators is likely to presume Vieceli wrote Breaks while Rydén provided the art, as their collaboration isn’t clarified. If that’s the level of criticism applying to Breaks, there’s not much wrong.
Breaks doesn’t end here. It reaches a natural downbeat pause before Breaks 2: Truth and Dare, leaving some mysteries hanging, including the massive elephant in the room introduced on the second page. It’s delighted and intrigued, providing a compelling authenticity, so more is very welcome.