Similar to the science-fiction work of French comic book legend Moebius, writer/artist Carla Speed McNeil’s FINDER is set in a tightly contained “universe,” but is broad enough to cover an infinite number of themes. However, unlike Moebius’s forays into metaphysics, McNeil is more interested in various “ologies,” such as anthropology, sociology and biology.
My own introduction to the series was issue number twenty, the middle part of a short story within the larger framework called “Talisman.” (FINDER is up to issue twenty-eight as of this writing.) Like the other chapters of the series, “Talisman” takes place in the domed city of Anvard on a planet I don’t think I’ve learned the name of. (Also as of this writing I haven’t collected the full series yet.)
I had been hoping to get involved with another all-ages comic, such as AKIKO or LEAVE IT TO CHANCE, but what I found was a more engrossing and novelistic approach to comics. Although Anvard is an enclosed urban center, it contains numerous cultural strata, from open markets one might find in Morocco to quiet suburban streets to high-tech futuristic cityscapes.
“Talisman” focuses on the character of Marcie, a nerdy pre-teen girl, and her love affair with a book, a gift given to her by Jaeger, a family friend. Marcie’s home life is a troubled one: Her mentally ill father lives in the house, strapped to a gurney at all times and constantly raving and cursing; her older brother, Lynn, has been inexplicably raised to be a woman; and her mother is having an open affair with Jaeger, who is an unreliable lover and disappears from the family for weeks and months at a time.
But when Jaeger comes around, he reads to Marcie from a real book — unlike the virtual reality skull-jacks that most people use for entertainment in Anvard — and those are the only loving, peaceful memories she has of her tense little life. But Marcie eventually loses possession of the book and spends her teenage years hunting it down. When she does find it, of course the reality surrounding the book can’t possibly match the fantasy Marcie has built out of her memories.
Previous to Marcie, Jaeger was the main character of FINDER. He’s actually the Finder of the title — a hunter and tracker by trade — hired by Marcie’s father when he was still sane to spy on his estranged family. Jaeger has himself suffered a difficult life, abused at the hands of men. So, it’s only natural that the only moments when he can relax in real peace and security is with Marcie’s family, which consists of only women, i.e. if you consider the male Lynn’s femininity strong enough it actually makes him a woman.
FINDER is science fiction in only the loosest of terms, in that its setting is a fantasy world where the technology is a logical futuristic extension of our own, but the social structure can at times be both very primitive or parallel to current times. It isn’t the fantasy of FINDER that is so intriguing, but the depth and care McNeil invests in her characters.
While FINDER is an open-ended series, it is smartly structured in book-length nuggets and are collected into graphic novels after all the individual issues of a particular storyline have been published. Although sometimes the books are connected and sometimes they are not, each book is able to stand entirely on its own. At least the ones I’ve read have been. I was able to start in the middle chapter of “Talisman” and enjoy it as if it were a standalone story.
Preceding “Talisman” are the books “Sin-Eater” — broken into volumes one and two — and “The King of Cats.” So far I’ve only picked up “Sin-Eater” volume one, which even though has no definitive end, I enjoyed as a story in and of itself. Although I would hope that in the future “Sin-Eater” could be released in a single edition. Not everyone is a hardened comic fan like myself who is willing to wait a year or two between “To be continueds,” given my erratic purchasing of graphic novels, even of comics I’m especially enamored of like FINDER.
The current story of FINDER is “Dream Sequence” and bears no relation to either the Jaeger or Marcie story except that it also takes place in Anvar and follows many of the same themes — mostly personal alienation and the lack of humanity in technology. Magri White is a tortured soul with a virtual reality amusement park in his head and who must fight back the demons living within him without any intimate human contact.
In “Dream Sequence,” McNeil seems to be going with a more expressionistic storytelling style than the hardened reality of “Sin-Eater” and “Talisman.” It’s also the more science-fiction-like of the other FINDER stories I’ve read and is thus not as effective to me. But, again, due to McNeil’s strong abilities at good characterization I do feel personally involved in Magri’s plight.
McNeil self-publishes FINDER through her own Lightspeed Press. She also follows the currently smart trend in comics where publishers put up sample issues of their book on a website where potential readers can try them out before purchasing. They’re definitely worth checking out.