Jonathan Hill’s Odessa is a special book. I don’t recall where I got the recommendation, but I wish I did because I want to thank whoever suggested it to me. The story is about 3 siblings who decide to search for their missing mother, set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia:
Eight years ago an earthquake—the Big One—hit along the Cascadia fault line, toppling cities and changing landscapes all up and down the west coast of the United States. Life as we know it changed forever. But for Vietnamese-American Virginia Crane, life changed shortly after the earthquake, when her mother left and never came back.
Ginny has gotten used to a life without her mother, helping her father take care of her two younger brothers, Wes and Harry. But when a mysterious package arrives for her eighteenth birthday, her life is shaken up yet again. For the first time, Ginny wants something more than to survive. And it might be a selfish desire, but she’s determined to find out what happened to her mother—even if it means leaving her family behind.
Unlike a lot of other post-apocalyptic comics, the art is stylized rather than realistic. This shifts the focus from whether things are realistic to characters and character development.
Odessa is, in essence, the magic of comics writ large.
We don’t need to have DaVinci level drafting skills to tell a good story – what we need, more than anything else, is a damn fine story with compelling characters.
Odessa has this in spades – characters who feel real, characters who feel honest.
Characters with genuine, understandable motivations.
That’s not to say the art is anything to sniff at – the art is damn good. It’s apropos for middle grade where the darker themes feel approachable due to the stylized art. But in a way, the art is deceiving – it looks like a graphic novel for kids, but the themes and emotions explored are more complex.
To put it simply, it’s just a damn good read.
Like many graphic novels and trade paperbacks, it has a little behind-the-scenes section at the end that shares some of the book’s creative journey. This one, however, convinced me to shift my own art in a specific direction.
Coloring comics has been a bugaboo of mine – making comics in general is, but coloring is a different level of hell for me. After the last comic I finished, I realized that I just don’t like coloring; it’s busy work and takes me a long time. But Jonathan Hill has made me reconsider, by making the argument that a very simple, limited color color palette is right for comics:
I’m not saying this would be easy – a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of shading is done by the inking – but it makes a lot of sense.
Personal growth aside, the best thing I can say about Odessa is that I can.not.wait for Jonathan’s next book. If you like emotional stories that don’t shy away from the hard stuff, read this book.