(Full disclaimer: I met Ken Foster when he taught a fiction workshop I took as an undergrad at Florida State. I've since kept up with him through social media.)
The Kind I'm Likely to Get is a series of short stories, some of which follow recurring characters and all of which include characters in the same universe with similar emotional voices. Although the settings change, the urban centers through which the characters orbit is nearly interchangeable.
Foster paints some really intriguing scenes, although I found myself struggling to hang it all together. It wasn't until I finished the stories and discovered the notes section in the back that it started to click for me. I have trouble investing in stories when I don't like the characters or when I can't understand the motivations of their actions. In the notes, Foster explains that he doesn't expect--or even want--the reader to like some of the characters. Some of them really are toxic and horrible. He's simply painting a scene in which these characters exist.
And he paints those scenes brilliantly. So much so, in fact, that I forgot for a while where I'd heard some of the stories. Some images from “Keep it From the Flame” lingered with me, and later I tried to remember if it was a news story or something someone told me or where I'd heard the story. Also, one character's trademark doodle, a cockroach turning into a locomotive, is described in one of the first stories and then mentioned again in a much later story. In the interim, I forgot that the doodle wasn't a real-life graffito or logo and thought Foster must be referencing the non-fictional world.
That may indicate that I'm an inattentive reader. Or it may show just how vivid Foster's scenes and characters are, how they come to life and worm their way into your memories.
Jeff Smith consistently has some of the cleanest, clearest, most consistent art I've seen in graphic novels. The characters are easily recognizable throughout the book and different enough from each other that you don't confuse them. Each panel is constructed in a way in which it's obvious what's going on, focusing only on the most important details while keeping enough of the extra information to keep you in the setting. That may sound like faint praise, but it's not. Judging from other comics I've read, this must be incredibly hard to do, let alone to maintain for a book the length of RASL.
So, while RASL has a few problems, the art is certainly not one of them.
I think the concept of RASL didn't have quite enough room to spread out, leaving the reader with some forced assumptions and unanswered questions. Mostly, I was left wanting more: more about the art thieving business, more about Sal and his motivations, more about Maya and her motivations, more about what drove a promising scientist to become a dimension-hopping alcoholic art thief. Unfortunately, the reader is just left wondering, even about some of the big, plot-moving questions.
In some ways, RASL is fun in the way that Mission Impossible movies are fun. That is, the action and concept and set pieces are all engaging, but don't try to make sense of it later or expect plot threads to be carried consistently throughout the story or rely on characters to be fully developed. It's good, but it doesn't accomplish those storytelling basics.
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