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Second Thoughts, Second Chances

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Top Shelf publisher Chris Staros himself advised Niklas Asker, the writer and artist of Second thoughts, on his university thesis; a project that transformed itself into the graphic novel that is up for discussion here. The publication is part of Top Shelf's wave of Swedish publications in conjunction with Galago that will hit the market in this and the coming year.

Jess is a novelist without a novel. John is a photographer running away to New York. Though it lasts only a moment, their brief encounter in Stansted Airport will transform both of their lives.

Asker's cute storytelling tricks and close up camera points of view make for nice reading material but ultimately, the story is where the characters are and they remain rather flat and unappealing. It seems that, in an effort to focus on the relationships of the protagonists, he cut out all the essential parts that make them a fully rounded human being. He cut away too much, leaving the reader grasping at straws, trying to make sense of the characters. Thereby the intricate-ness of daily motions becomes a tedious succession of non-events. It's hard for people to care when you don't know what the people you are supposed to care about stand for. He misses the experience of a Daniel Clowes or Adrian Tomine to make the daily grind have deeper meaning on the larger canvas that is the human experience.

In the end thought, Second thoughts is about standing up for and believing in yourself, in making the right decisions in tune with the world, unafraid of the consequences. It's a process so essential to human nature that it is easily communicated in stories, across every conceivable medium. However, this universal experience is also easily exploited, prone to falling prey to storytelling short cuts and easily digestible trope. It is the stuff that the quintessential soap opera is made out of. To truly communicate the intricacies of human interaction, embedding it story-wise into the universal emotional sphere of Man, takes consummate skill and there's also something to be said for experience. Like the best of therapists have underwent years of therapy themselves in order to prepare them for the job. And I'm afraid Niklas Asker hasn't either got the experience or the comic vocabulary to express what he wants to convey penetrating a deeper emotional resonance.

The brushwork by Asker certainly demonstrates a high level of technical know how though. He is not afraid of spotting the blacks and using the black and white spacing as an emotional landscape. Feeling like a mix between R Kikuo Johnson and Adrian Tomine, it also feels a bit generic, like the artist himself is still searching for a definite singular style that is completely his own.

Second thoughts is driven by an emotional and focused storyteller with a great flair for appealing brushwork. But ultimately, for a graphic novel that is about the human experience, very little is experienced by the reader. It is mostly told in a such a way that the reader does not truly feels involved in the proceedings but is placed in the position of the distant watcher. It comes across as too ambitious and fails to convey the distant need for self affirmation and affection the characters cry out for. Second thoughts is a worthy try and Niklas Asker certainly shows promise but it is a talent that still needs developing. However, he definitely deserves ... a second chance.

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Second thoughts by Niklas Asker is published by Top Shelf Productions. It is an 80 pages counting original graphic novel, retailing for $9.95 and is available in finer bookstores and comic shops in April.

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