Alright, so this review may have got a little out of hand. But I was super excited about this book, and wanted to record my thoughts on the subject. And let’s be honest, once you get me talking about a book I enjoyed, it’s hard to get me to shut up.
This review is dedicated to our dear, late Borders, where I found this book on the shelf, thought, “Ooh, pretty,” and dived in.
Usually, I try to stick to the recommendations of friends or favorite authors when navigating the galaxies that are the sci-fi shelves, but sometimes I happen on a book that strikes my interest and I decide to take a chance. Finder drew my eye with both its art and intriguing title, but on a preliminary skimming, I really wasn’t sure what it was about. I actually left it on the shelf that day, but ended coming back for it later and I’m glad I did.
As a graphic novel, Finder’s first appeal to me was certainly the art. McNeil’s bold, clean style caught my interest immediately. Her intricate linework without the use of greyscale really appealed to me, and reminded me of the work of CLAMP and Colleen Doran, two other favorite graphic novel artists. Each page and frame is filled with detail, and certainly merits the reader’s attention. A well-drawn graphic novel really does ask for a close reading, just as a good prose novel would. But what I really fell in love with as I read was the fact that McNeil gives great care to continuity; the characters’ appearances tell the story as much as dialogue and action do. Characters change outfits daily; Jaeger outgrows haircuts and grows stubble; something seemingly out of place in a character’s appearance has an explanation a few pages later. There’s also tons of detail in the background, and it’s just fun to see the depth McNeil has given each page.
Now that I’ve mentioned him, I supposed I should officially introduce Jaeger as the story’s protagonist. He’s a Finder, which is sort of an elite tracker or scout whose task is to find those things others have tasked him with. He’s also a Sin Eater, a profession that is in some ways very much at odds with his role as Finder. It’s fair to say that he’s very much a man of contradictions. Jaeger is a half-breed in a world where one’s identity is very much caught up in membership to a homogeneous clan, so he’s spent most of his life on the move. In fact, his nomadic lifestyle is further complicated by something very unique about him, but I won’t give that away.
The narrative itself starts out somewhat fragmented. That is, while it is easy enough to follow the action within each episodic chapter, it takes some time to understand how the overarching narrative fits together; and at first, I felt like I was reading a rather odd story. But things come together well enough once you get about a hundred pages in, which sounds like a lot, but really, Finder was so engrossing that it didn’t feel like a long read. McNeil reveals details bit by bit, requiring active participation from the reader to make the complete picture, a quality that I really enjoyed. I love knowing that an author has filled a work with clues, and is asking me to look for them.
While McNeil has filled her story with narrative details, she has also cleverly worked in hundreds of pop culture references, including many of her (which are often my) favorite books, movies, and music. I’m sure I miss a lot of them, too, but the ones I get make me feel an affinity for McNeil as a storyteller. (Princess Bride, Labyrinth, Neil Gaiman, Chronicles of Narnia? We’re already friends!) Such details give her fictional world lushness and depth. I also love that she’s incorporated a good deal of aboriginal motifs for a flavor of sci-fi that is rather underdone in the mainstream.
As far as thematic material, Finder, like much science fiction, engages in a lot of social speculation. It deals with ideas such as social and gender identity, moral responsibility, mental illness, and dysfunctional family relationships (some of which are fairly disturbing). In other words, yes, it contains some controversial and therefore mature themes. Overall, I’ve admired McNeil’s presentation of her material. She raises good questions and objections to societal norms without feeling preachy. There are a number of scenes of nudity, but no explicit sex scenes (a far cry from most other graphic novels I’ve read). McNeil does not exploit her characters, and what sex that has been implied has had a narrative purpose. Also, I can’t say I always fully agree with character’s choices, but I do like that her characters act consistently. They’re not paragons of perfected virtue, but they are poignant portraits of the daily human struggles and triumphs of trying to live as well as one knows how. Thus, while not perfect, I find the characters true pictures of the sorts of people we might meet anywhere. If we consider that science fiction is often the genre of social commentary, I find McNeil’s work–by turns satyrical, humorous, and serious–a worthy and insightful addition.
Lastly, I have to say that I really appreciated the Dark Horse omnibus edition. It’s a pleasantly hefty paperback with a well bound spine that doesn’t crack, despite the first volume spanning over 600 pages. The color gallery of individual issue covers at the back is a pleasing addition for newcomers to the series. But the best part is 40 pages of author’s notes. In addition to clarifying a few confusing passages in the book, they add depth to the story through providing details about the world and the author’s inspirations. Reading the notes felt like getting to talk to my best friend about one of her stories.
En fin, Finder is a well-written, beautifully drawn, and insightful story, one that I’d recommend to fans of science fiction and graphic novels both. I’m glad it found me. (And equally glad volume 2 is released in a week!)