Friends is Friends
By Greg Cook
Friends is Friends is a stark look at how friendships form, bloom, are rekindled, die and reborn. Anthropomorphized characters, in the form of elephants, pigs, and the like speak of a bygone age of rail-hopping, and where the downtrodden have fallen; it also speaks of those who rise above their self-appointed stations. A complex work that requires several readings, Greg Cook, centers the story around Critter, a lost and far gone hobo, succumbing to drink and inexpensive pleasures, like the friendships he forms and un-forms over the course of this adult graphic novel. Both moving and chuckle filled at the same time, the antics of this graphic novel make it well worth the read.
Plot wise, Friends is Friends, is loosely laid out, leaving a lot to the imagination of the reader. There is minimal expository dialogue, and maximum concentration on the moment. Only two flashback scenes are provided, and they seem no less dream-like than the rest of the story. Written authentically, with fully fleshed out characters, Greg Cook entices the reader to dig into their own friendships, past and present and re-evaluate their meanings. Spaced out in stark black and white (black panels indicate either a passage of time or introduce a new scene) the arc of Critter’s encounters, and those of a ghostly teddy bear, lay out the somber attitudes and “real-life” angst that permeates the novel. The effect is spectacular, as the dark read runs havoc, through the readers mind. Having said that, the story does require multiple readings to grasp the thematic content of the story; this is no fools reading. Structure wise, the story holds its own and can be read in one sitting to get the overall gist of the story. I highly recommend that you give it a chance to sit, and then pick it up again as the deeper elements are a joy to discover.
Artistically, this harkens back to the Nobel Prize winning Maus. Anthropomorphized characters take the place of human beings in a very human story. Minimally drawn, often with no break, or implied, panels are the norm and detail is waived at the expense of attitude. The wavering inks flow off the page, surrealistically, and enhance the dreamy aspect of this graphic art piece. From the depictions of rail-hopping, past and present, to the destitute streets of Somewhere, U.S.A., to the middle class suburbs, Cook often dispenses with the traditional artistic habit of perspective and, instead, focuses on the overall impact of the panel. From a artist’s point of view, this could be seen as a cop-out, and that realistic humans could be just as easily replaced, but like Maus, Friends is Friends, has a darker role to fulfill and animal characters seem to jab the proverbial knife home a little deeper. The mimeses, or art reflecting life, may not be present but all in all is carried out to the fullest capacity.
If your taste for dark, independent graphic novels reflects that of Maus, or other anthropomorphized books, then Friends is Friends is right up your alley. The bleakness and angst, may not rub off on everyone the right way, but I guarantee, the reader will pull something out of it. It’s a well-constructed tale, with friendship as its elusive theme, examining all sides of friendship, will leave you haunted and leave a lingering feeling long after it’s gone. Friends is Friends and Greg Cook belong on any collector’s bookshelf; it is an awesome ride.