By Andy Hirsch
Varmints, by Andy Kirsch, is a series of conundrums that lead to disaster and also to the meaning of family. The resonate theme throughout the lead protagonists Opie and Ned, two youngsters in the wild west, is that of cooperation and sticking together through thick and thin. The trials they face are great, and they must overcome them and their personal differences in their quest to find Pa, a notorious criminal mastermind and their father. The graphic novel is light in tone and can be read fairly quickly. It’s a brisk read that is satisfying until the end.
The plot, so to speak, consists of bite sized chapters, that separate the hectic adventure they go on. The action ramps up with each bit, notching up the tension; even more daring exploits keep the action on an upward spiral, to the proverbial death trap at the end – an event worthy of Indiana Jones. The pacing is well executed and although you know what Opie and Ned are going through, it becomes difficult to feel for the characters until the very end. I believe this is because the plot is the foremost thing on Hirsch’s mind, not the characterization. Plot-wise Varmints is well laid out but it lacks in other areas.
Speaking of characterization, the wide cast of characters prevents you from developing an affinity for any of them. They come and go, and their personalities, for the most part, fade into oblivion. Only Opie and Ned are well explored, and you even leave the graphic novel with not much of a feeling towards them –you are just happy for them and that’s it. A smaller cast of characters probably would have fared better as you could get to know more about them in order for reader empathy to be engaged. With the wild range of hijinks they go on, however, introducing a large cast is an inevitable outcome. For the most part, each character in Varmints has a unique voice but you get lost in the action, and the remnants of their personalities are scattered to the wind.
Artistically, Varmints is very loose. It has deft lines and skillful penmanship that give this wacky wild west adventure the style it warrants. Cartoonish, to a fault (a good fault, mind you) I couldn’t picture any other art style that would have made this graphic novel any better. The sometimes outlandish events, really stand out in Hirsch’s style making this, visually, a treat for the eyes. The panelation is well placed and the layout is based on a standard grid. Thank goodness for Manga Studio EX, and Photoshop CS5, the tools used to create this fantastic piece of art. They brought out the basic framework for the graphic novel and Hirsch’s skill with the tools is readily apparent. The art isn’t cluttered (except in the occasional brawl) but the dynamic distortion of figure, in the right places play right into Hirsch’s niche. The work is never devoid of movement, and this keeps the plot rolling along.
Thematically, the work falters. What really is a story about two children trying to find their place in the fictional world they inhabit gets lost in the action. The primary themes are really not there until the end, and this is primarily because this is a plot driven story (if I haven’t said this enough). I would have liked to have seen more character development, and focus towards the themes listed above. Given the nature of the story, I would have liked a little more closure; given the nature of the plot, it could have been paced a little slower. All in all this is a solid story, just one with a few holes that have to be plugged up.
For lovers of action comics in the wild west vein, and the child in each of us, Varmints is well worth the endeavor, For those looking for a little more depth, this might not be your cup of tea. Andy Hirsch has created a mayhem of adventure, and it’s sure to delight discerning readers of graphic novels. There might be a few holes here, but they are well worth it, just to see the end scene.