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You Are Here. By Kyle Baker. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1999. 156p. $19.95. ISBN 1-56389-442-4.

Fiction; crime and mystery fiction

Adults, older teens; nudity, profanity, violence, sexual situations

Noel Coleman has been living with his girlfriend, Helen, in the upstate New York town of Phoenicia. He's an artist with a secret criminal past; she's a New Age therapist who talks to animals, who insists on watching the sun rise and set every day, and who is genuinely (and somewhat mindlessly) happy. Determined to break with his past once and for all, Noel travels to New York City to sell his apartment. He finds his friend Oscar in his apartment (Oscar has been using it for his sexual rendezvous). They go out for a drink and a smoke together, and Noel explains what's been going on in his life. Oscar is, to say the least, skeptical. They later pick up Oscar's girlfriend Tracy (who works in the porno trade as a peepshow girl) and go out for dinner. The TV at the restaurant announces that one Vaughn Dreyfuss, a convicted murderer and bestselling author of Yes I Did It and I'll Kill Again, is about to be released after only a year in jail. Vaughn brags about how he's going to "kill the bastard who was screwing my wife...." That bastard just happens to be Noel.

Noel tries to get some police protection, but he flees the police station when he sees his face on a Wanted poster. As he frantically tries to change his train reservation, someone starts opening all the locks on his door. It's Helen! She's driven their truck to the city to tell him a surprise: she's pregnant! Noel is at once overjoyed and terrified, and he tries to drag Helen off to Atlantic City to get married. But he can't bring himself to tell her why yet. And when they go down to the truck, it's been stolen. They get it back, but promptly get stuck in Manhattan traffic with no gas in the tank. They manage to find a gas station and fill a glass bottle with gas--but it's almost five o'clock, and Helen insists on watching the sunset. Noel has a horrific time avoiding matches, shish-ka-bob vendors, and other open flames as he races after Helen. To top it all off, they're mugged as they watch the sunset.

Wandering back to the truck with the gas, they encounter Oscar and Tracy. Tracy's innocent remark about the carriage rides in Central Park cause Helen to insist on a ride. With little choice, Noel acquiesces [he puts the bottle of gas on the ground, and we never hear about it again], first giving Oscar the keys to his apartment. Later, as Oscar phones up a girlfriend to come on over, he's ambushed by Vaughn, who demands to know where Noel is. Oscar only reveals this information when Vaughn threatens to kill Tracy--and Vaughn kills Oscar afterwards.

After a series of frantic misadventures in Central Park where Noel and Helen have to elude both Vaughn and the cops, Noel breaks down and explains everything to Helen. "I'm carrying Satan's baby!" screams the shell-shocked Helen, and she runs away from Noel. Because he's acting as bodyguard to Tracy while she and another woman simulate sex acts for a group of men, Noel loses track of Helen. Later, he returns dejected to his apartment--where someone hands him a series of photographs that had been taken by Vaughn. The killer clearly has been following her. Noel realizes that she's probably on the ferry "to watch the sunrise on the river, see the Statue of Liberty." And he's got only minutes to get there and hardly any money in his pockets....

This is Baker's third graphic novel, the other two being The Cowboy Wally Show, which I don't remember much, and Why I Hate Saturn, which I have to dig up and review. But I'm willing to bet that You Are Here is far and away the best of the bunch. The basic themes are "you can take the boy out of the city" etc. and "your past comes back to haunt you"--sort of Sweet Charity in reverse. The story is a little corny and occasionally somewhat silly--would the ferry really have been utterly empty at six in the morning, thus ensuring that no one would witness the confrontation between Noel and Vaughn?--but it moves along nicely and is often hilarious. The story is loaded with funny business: Noel's various chase/chasing scenes, his overblown crime art, Helen's fixation on animals (at one point she gives a skunk a bath), and much more. Finally, the dialogue is very realistic.

The characters are all appealing. Noel is a handsome, capable guy who turns into putty when Helen wants something. Helen is an interesting mix of mindless cheer and surprisingly perceptive individual--she manages to talk her way out of several sticky situations, such as when she calms down the carriage horse or convinces the mugger to watch the sunrise before he takes their money. And after Noel's revelations--well, they don't quite swap personalities, but she's more cynical and he's happier at the end of the book. I loved Oscar, that streetwise wiseass thug, and was sorry when he got killed. Tracy is the weakest of the quartet, with no consistent personality (she's somewhat ditzy in the beginning and harder-edged later); also, it's not quite clear why Noel ends up making her his girlfriend, since there is never any hint of a relationship between them until the end.

What really makes this book stand out is the full-color art, which is some of the best I've seen in a long, long time. The panels are more like animation cels than plain drawings, with sharp images set over soft-focus, photorealist backgrounds (or vice-versa in some cases) and all kinds of close-ups, long shots, and creative angles. The animals are all hilariously drawn in the Disney mode, with big, questioning eyes. Indeed, Baker's eyes are terrific on the humans, too; for one thing, he uses eyebrows really well to help set the mood of a face. The humans are just rubbery enough to be really expressive without losing their essential humanity. And the pacing is just wonderful. There's almost no narration, and many of the action sequences are entirely wordless; they're so well paced that little needs to be explained in text. Many comics wannabees could learn an awful lot about the flow of panels from reading this book. Hell, a lot of movie makers could learn a lot from this book!

Helen talks to a deer 

Noel sees his doom with Oscar and Tracy

Copyright 1999, Kyle Baker

For the art alone, You Are Here deserves to be remembered, and overall it's thoroughly enjoyable. Most highly recommended for adults and teens. Definitely too spicy for kids! A great book to demonstrate the power and potential of sequential art to skeptics.


Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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