Review by Ian Keogh
Stray Bullets has always been marketed as a crime series, and the opening collection, Innocence of Nihilism, opened with a crime story and followed with several more, yet the real strength of David Lapham’s writing is drama. He creates characters and situations that get under your skin, and works them into something unique. Compared with the opening book, until the final chapter the crime element is strictly low end, public disturbance, vandalism, firearms in a public place, but Somewhere Out West is still an engrossing read.
Lapham focuses almost exclusively on Beth, Nina and Orson, over an eighteen month period spanning 1982 and 1983, although it could be a contemporary story for all the change that’s likely to have occurred in the remote town portrayed. The trio fled Baltimore with a massive quantity of stolen cocaine, and are maintaining a low profile in a trailer park somewhere out West, or the ironically named Seaview for the sake of precision. To avoid detection from very angry and very dangerous parties they’ve avoided cashing in on their haul. Nina is working her way through considerable quantities, and Orson proves a man of hidden depths, but it’s Beth and a new character, Nick who take centre stage. Beth is a frustrated free spirit trapped in a small town, and Nick an idiot with ideas above his station, and as such easily manipulated. Lapham’s dissection of Nick’s pitiful life has a hilarious car crash quality, contrasting the persona he projects with the reality.
Young runaway Ginny also arrives in Seaview and hooks up with the others, Lapham crafting some surreal interactions between her and the now tragic Nina. Seaview is so named as the addled Mayor considers that’s what the Arizona community will have once the inevitable earthquake drops California into the sea. For the time being their star attraction is a five legged cow, from which Lapham crafts slapstick gold. Make the most of it, as with the finale we’re back to harrowing crime. It’s tense, it’s heart rending, it’s brutal, and it’s wonderfully scripted.
And drawn for that matter. Let’s not forget what an accomplished artist Lapham is. At times it seems as if he never puts a line out of place. Take some time to admire the technique. Look at how Lapham varies his viewpoints around a scene, yet never complicates the story, and what’s conveyed without dialogue on the featured page. It’s a masterclass.
Also included is the second Amy Racecar story. These are Ginny’s escapist fantasies incorporating elements of her real life experiences with wish-fulfilment scenarios in which she’s powerful, resourceful and crucially always in control. Their purpose is also to let Lapham indulge aspects of his storytelling desires that wouldn’t otherwise fit the reality based main stories, and to draw a romp that doesn’t have to make perfect sense. Not everyone liked them when interrupting the regular continuity during Stray Bullets’ serialisation, but as change of pace chapters in a graphic novel they’re a lot of fun.
As with the previous collection and the next, Other People, if found at a reasonable price the hardcover version of Somewhere Out West is the better buy. Not only is the art reproduced at a larger size, but Lapham fills the end pages with all sorts of memories and anecdotes about what was going on in his life as the stories were created. Alternatively all six graphic novels from before Lapham took a break are within the massive paperback Stray Bullets Uber Alles Edition.