So begins Nicholas Breutzman's Yearbooks, setting the scene with a dour black and white six panel prologue. As a storm converges on an isolated country schoolhouse, three children stare sullenly from within. Their teacher stands behind them, visible only as a shadowy silhouette, as ominous and menacing as the storm that rages outside. Her cold gaze cuts through the darkness like a nocturnal bird of prey on the hunt.
With a sudden jarring shift of tone, we find ourselves inside the schoolhouse; grey monochrome replaced by garish neon technicolour. An aging teacher assigns her class the task of drawing a 'sad day', the results of which prove too much for her to bear. The childrens' drawings drive her instantly insane. Poof! She turns into a Moonbat, ascends to the ceiling, and proceeds to shower her entire class with Guano. One begins to wonder if the children have more to fear inside the schoolhouse than they do outside of it.
With the turn of a page we snap back to reality. Ryan wakes from his dream only to discover he’s already late for school. When he does finally arrive, it soon becomes painfully obvious that he isn’t the most popular kid in school. With few real friends to speak of, save his 'hopelessly goth' friend Michelle, Ryan establishes a close friendship with his art teacher Mr Feltz.
As their relationship develops, Feltz beings to shows Ryan his early sketchbooks, filled with studies of down and outs and ‘crack babies’, as Ryan excitedly dubs them. In spite of his affable and friendly manner, Feltz's art belies a darker side to his character. Whilst his life drawings are technically impressive, they come across as cold and callous, with little or no emotional connection to the subjects he's portraying. Ryan however, entertains no such suspicions and is taken in by sheer the shock factor of it all, spurred on by his adolescent curiosity for the new and the extreme.
It’s only when Ryan accidentally witnesses Feltz taking advantage of his friend Michelle, that he realises the suspect nature of Feltz's ‘close’ relationships with his pupils. As the full weight of his discovery becomes apparent, Ryan's world slowly begins to melt away, segueing back into dreamlike abstraction. The cryptic warnings of the book’s opening pages come full circle, leaving the reader to contemplate the sometimes questionable motives of our peers and authority figures.
In the book's final closing panels, a group of students dance their final dance, blissfully unaware that the Moonbat has returned to unleash the raging waters of the outside world. Smashing the school's windows, she brings about a flood of biblical proportions, drowning and suffocating all that reside within. The flooded schoolhouse, a watery grave for the dead, heralds the metaphorical end of an era and serves as a stark reminder that growing up isn't all its cracked up to be.
From the jarring psychedelic dream sequence that opens the book, to its closing apocalyptic meditation on the intrusion of the adult world, Yearbooks presents a realistic, sometimes darkly skewed vision of high school life. For all its forays into the fantastic, Yearbooks possesses more than enough realism to bring you crashing back down to earth with a thud. Breutzman's comic is vivid, unsettling and altogether more believable than you’d perhaps like it to be.
As it stands, this is strong work with a distinct voice of its own. Breutzman and Feltz have penned an engaging story, packed with inventive layouts and whimsical visual experimentation. Raighne Hogan's colouring is also highly impressive, lending a radioactive neon sheen to everything he touches. If anything, I’d be intrigued to see something more substantial from the same creative team, perhaps with a higher page count to give them all a little extra space to play with. With a larger scope, I could very well see Breutzman, Feltz and Hogan creating something truly special further on down the line.
You can snag yourself a copy of Yearbooks here. Many thanks to Raighne at 2D Cloud for hooking me up with a copy.