cover image No One Else

No One Else

R. Kikuo Johnson. Fantagraphics, $16.99 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-68396-479-7

In two-tone panels punctuated by spare dialogue and splashes of sunset orange, Johnson (Night Fisher) tells an achingly realistic story of a Hawaiian family reeling in grief. Charlene, a busy single mother and ER nurse, takes care of her elderly father, until his mortal fall down the stairs. After she tips into an obsessive depression (the tidy family home filling with bags of garbage and stacked up mail) and ignores her young son, Brandon, her freewheeling, globe-trotting musician brother Robbie intervenes. Between alerting relatives to his father’s death, trying to pick up groceries with Charlene’s overdrawn credit card, and smoking pot, Robbie tries to comfort Brandon. “Part of being a man is standing up to do the thing no one else wants to do,” he opines. Robbie eventually takes his own advice, but first he and Charlene have to push past their old familial roles as the responsible one and the runaway. Set in Maui, where burning sugar cane fields choke Brandon’s dreams, the graphic novella’s splintered world is populated with striking, evolving images that symbolize the characters’ changing emotional landscape: their dad’s old fishing boat, big-jawed agricultural equipment, the urn containing his ashes. A subplot about the missing family cat, Batman, provides the final note and a poetic reminder that neither family nor identity is fixed. Johnson’s careful style conveys big emotions and family dynamics in concise scenes. It’s a beautiful example of a short comic containing multitudes. (Nov.)