Review by Ian Keogh
A formal illustrative style seeps off every page of M. Dean’s first story collection, each vaguely themed around music as they straddle the decades from the early 1950s. The music is emphasised as the touchstone for a specific time, with Eddy Arnold or the Electric Light Orchestra soundtracking short stories about what being young was like in their era. Every second strip features the correspondence between Miriam and George, who first meet after a Beatles concert in Edinburgh, and whose lives we see progress over the years. It’s like a more detailed version of the old Cruisin’ album sleeves, each of which was confined to a specific year, while Miriam and George’s interludes are illustrated by the albums the various members of the Beatles issued over the years.
I Am Young’s pages are designed around the square shapes of old album covers, and Dean’s experimental design ethos creates one notable page after another, as she frequently toys with form, designing her pages around a nine panel grid or four vertical panels with movement in each. At its most sophisticated a woman riding a horse circles a fence in the centre panel, or Lisa swims through an ocean of coloured strands as she trips in 1978.
While the graphic design is formidable, the writing lags behind. Around halfway we meet Kennedy and Rhea who want to be novelists, yet theirs is a world of ideas never completed and them striving to be something they’re not. Is it a metaphor for Dean’s own struggles beyond her idea of young people from the 1950s onwards? None of the actual stories told exceed the ordinary. The best is Miriam and George through the years for having a continuity rather than a glimpse, and they’re incredibly lucky for always picking their moments by Edinbrugh’s Greyfriars Bobby statue when it isn’t surrounded by tourists taking selfies. Of the one-offs Alvin is the most interesting person for having the feeling of Dean stretching herself by giving voice to someone far removed from herself, and for once using music as something more than just a way into someone’s sense of isolation.
Dean’s art is something to immerse yourself in and tips her book beyond average. It’s varied and interesting enough to recommend anyone at least looks at I Am Young, but the stories don’t resonate.