Mercury and Anya’s Ghost

by John Holbo on June 27, 2011

Well, if you aren’t reading all the posts and comments about same-sex marriage over at the Corner – but why wouldn’t you be? wow, K. Lo – maybe you would be interested in some YA comics. Mercury, by Hope Larson, and Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol. I really have only one complaint, and it concerns Hope Larson’s art. When she draws people running … oh, I’ll just show you.

The right arm and the left leg should be forward. Or left arm and right leg. Opposites. She’s a good cartoonist. As Scott McCloud says in his blurb: “The best work to date from a powerful cartoonist.” So there! So I don’t know why she draws people running in this strange, unnatural way that the human body would never move in. The rest of the art is fine.

On we go. I bought both books for my older daughter, who is almost 10 – and for me, who am I kidding! Turns out they’re a bit too much for her. Somewhat mature teen themes – maybe PG-13 – also murder and ghosts. She can read them next year, or the year after. (Your 9-year old daughter might be harder-boiled than mine. I couldn’t say.) Well, I enjoyed them. But they sort of had the same plot. I’ll explain under the fold, thereby semi- but not really spoiling the plot(s).

Mercury tells the story of Tara Fraser, whose family is falling apart. House burned down. Dad not around. Mom had to get a job in another town. Our protagonist is staying with relatives while mom gets it together.

She finds a mysterious pendant – family heirloom. A crystal containing a drop of mercury. It finds things. This connects to a murder in the family, 150 years earlier. So we get two stories: Tara and her back-to-school anxiety and awkwardness. And the thing that happened 150 years ago. Her ancestor Josey, and the mysterious stranger, Asa Curry, who brought with him that treasure-finding drop of mercury, who has a tendency to turn into a crow. Or something.

Now Anya’s Ghost (with effusive blurbs by Scott McCloud and Hope Larson!) Anya is trying hard not to be a Russian immigrant, so she can fit in. The boy she likes turns out to be a jerk; that blonde chick is a mess. She falls down a well and meets the ghost of a girl who ‘s been hanging out down there for 150 years. Anya ends up wearing one of the ghost girl’s finger-bones on a chain (so the ghost can get out of the well, by the laws of ghost logic. Sticking with her bones and all that.)

It’s useful having a ghost around, but things are not always as they seem. Again we get two stories intertwined. Long-ago murder mystery and present-day teen girl misfit wandering around high school with a problematic magical talisman around her neck.

Just a coincidence, these parallels. A way of working that ‘two worlds’ thing kids’ fiction, and fantasy fiction, likes: you want the school story, with the regular stuff – parties and drinking beer and weird teachers and awkward romance. And you want the intensity of murder and magic, without the latter overwhelming the satisfying ordinariness of the former.

Brosgol has an excellently rubbery, squash-and-stretch dynamic style. Very expressive, with confident lines and lots of nice camera work, all in the service of good, clear, story-telling. In this scene our hapless protagonist, after planning to trip, fall down and feign injury in gym, accidentally trips and falls down and everyone sees her butt, and the blonde jumps lightly over her, and her chubby friend, with whom she was planning to fall down accidentally has her feelings slightly hurt, etc. and it’s all a big tragedy.

Hope Larson is good, too, when she isn’t drawing people running. Her figures tend to be a bit stiff, but that can work. (She draws a bit like Chester Brown, now that I think about it.)

Bottom line: fun. Nice to see female comics artists, producing solid stuff. Because, you know, it can be a lot of fanboys drawing pneumatic blondes and Catwoman and all. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.



ejh 06.27.11 at 2:46 pm


P O'Neill 06.27.11 at 2:46 pm

At your prompting I went looking for the latest on K-Lo but collapsed laughing at VDH’s outrage about the Rose Bowl scene at that fabulous match the other night.

Which I know is nothing to do with the rest of the post.


alph 06.27.11 at 2:58 pm


John Holbo 06.27.11 at 3:16 pm

Wow. Namba jogging. What a concept.


alph 06.27.11 at 4:05 pm

Oh, sure. And when agile pedophiles do it while strolling through the British countryside with their underage Ganymedes, you get nimble NAMBLA Namba rambling.


Las Vegas jesus 06.27.11 at 5:00 pm

A marriage should be a sacred exchange of vows between a drunk guy and a cocktail waitress and sanctified only by an Elvis impersonator. My dad is more of a traditionalist and still thinks that a marriage should only be between a man and as many woman as he can afford.


Bloix 06.27.11 at 6:09 pm

“So I don’t know why she draws people running in this strange, unnatural way that the human body would never move in.”

She draws people running this way because it presents the entire body to the viewer; a naturalistic version would turn the chest away or have an arm block the view of the chest. This is an artistic convention that’s been around for some time, see, e.g.,


Tim May 06.27.11 at 6:39 pm

But two of the five runners in the picture do have their chests turned away…


ben w 06.27.11 at 8:14 pm

I just tried walking around with ipsilateral arm/leg movement. Verdict: it’s not that hard if you pay attention and probably you could habituate yourself into it pretty easily. It did seem to lead to increased stress on the knees, though, so running might be more difficult.


dreyss 06.28.11 at 11:02 am

Cool story bro.


kharris 06.28.11 at 3:28 pm

They have all their fingers – what do you want!

Sorry, sorry. Got carried away.

Like alph said, wrongward-running is a convention. Not universal, but common enough.

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