The Comics Reporter | Tom Spurgeon | April 19, 2010
The Comics Reporter reviews THE WRONG PLACE
CR Review: The Wrong Place
This is a beautiful-looking work, almost floridly so, but it's also an emotionally devastating and slightly frustrating one, and the balance between those effects is where things become much more intriguing. Brecht Evens' use of watercolors dazzles at first glance, and second glance, and third. Rightfully so: its depiction of the interlocking lives of a group of twenty-somethings is richly realized, and bursting with color, but never in a way where comics fundamentals of proportion and perspective and continuity have been abandoned. It's only when you dive into it that you begin realize how full a range of of comics' formal elements Evens employs. There are dramatic switches between tightly-plotted grids and border-absent tableaux. Language is obscured to suggest the impact of overpowering noise. The color schemes by which we might distinguish certain characters follows into the word balloons. Evens builds strong visual contrasts between, say, the apartment of sad-sack Gary and the hangout of mythologized party-boy Robbie, while subtly playing on their similarities (compare the function of stairs in each place). It's a cataclysmic performance, less about the airy theatrics of a guitar solo than a tightly-controlled and equally awesome jazz musician clamped down on the individual strings of expression spinning around them in order to wrest from them what it is they want to say. I could spend a lot of time looking at the darn thing. Heck, I already have.
Like many stories told with this kind of style to burn, the narrative and thematic structure prove fairly simple. Evens contrasts the lives of two childhood friends, Gary and Robbie, through three scenarios: a party at Gary's apartment where Robbie's absence is keenly felt, a evening out with Robbie from the perspective of a woman he picks up, and then a direct encounter between Gary and Robbie (tellingly) on Robbie's turf. Each set piece spins out its narrative with a control and delectable patience to match the technical virtuosity of the art. Each rough third of the book has their moments, even stunning ones (the sex scene proves to be pretty remarkable on its craft merits, and it furthers the plot) but on a second read-through it's the first scene that sticks because of the degree of difficulty involved, a gorgeous train-wreck of an evening that sets up two characters (one completely absent) and hammers out the thematic distance between them. My main quibble with the book stems from the fact that the final encounter between Gary and Robbie underlines their forcefully communicated differences rather than supplying it with additional depth or idiosyncratic detail. It's exactly the meeting you expect it to be, and while that inevitability is part of the tragedy involved -- the inability to break out of certain habits and harmful self-conception is each party's unwelcome guest -- I still think there might have been room for a twist or two in the way that the narrative unfolds. The last thing I expected to feel the last 20 pages of this book is disinterested; the rest of the work was so good I remain open to this being my shortcoming rather than the book's.