It's difficult to think about anything without acknowledging how the coronavirus has impacted our lives. Witnessing social interactions in a television show like Community or reading about a bustling New York City in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man inevitably summons a comparison between what is consumed and what is. Coronavirus—the crisis we are all experiencing, not the virus itself—is everywhere and demands its place even in our media entertainment.
This new reality was something I thought about immediately after finishing the first issue of Friday, a new comic released on the Panel Syndicate website and created by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Marcos Martin with colors by Muntsa Vicente. The release came just over a month after the NBA canceled its season and the lockdowns became a serious matter for all Americans. The Panel Syndicate model, which offers comics from acclaimed creators for any price they like (including free) to anyone with an internet connection, seems perfect for the current moment. I was grateful to have access to something brand new with an impressive pedigree, and to have something that could easily be shared with fellow readers unable to visit their local comic shop or afford new comics. Friday began well before the coronavirus was part of everything we do, but it has arrived in a moment where its very distribution model feels essential.
While I am grateful to have a new comic that is easy to share; I was more pleased to discover 28 pages of story that didn't make me think of our current crisis even once while reading. Friday #1 is an engrossing introduction filled with characters, settings, and mysteries so well realized that they walk the tightrope between providing a satisfying single issue and leaving readers anxious to turn the first page on the second issue. Friday is the best form of diversion and it could not have found a better moment to arrive.
Friday #1 introduces Friday Fitzhugh, a college freshman returning to her small, coastal hometown as snow covers the woods ensconcing it. There she is met by her childhood friend Lancelot Jones and Sheriff Bixby, already investigating a mystery involving an ancient dagger and local ne'er-do-well Wilson "Weasel" Wadsworth. The names and plot synopsis are more than enough to tip readers off that this narrative is firmly embedded in genre, specifically young adult novels defined by the likes of Harriet the Spy and Encyclopedia Brown. It's a mode of storytelling Brubaker is familiar with—utilizing familiar character types, settings, and conflicts and applying adult psychologies and themes to create something new. This is the formula that transformed Archie Comics creations into one of the darkest (and best) Criminal comics in "The Last of the Innocent."
While the approach may be familiar, the actual content of Friday is not. The town of King's Hill and its inhabitants are uniquely realized in Martin's pages. A title page splays out this sleepy lit hamlet and surrounding hills for readers. It captures the interactions between light and darkness and the aesthetic of a small town perfectly. Settings like this are much more difficult to realize than caricature, but Martin constructs something that anyone who—like Friday—originates from a similar place will recognize. Sequences in the town capture the idiosyncratic collection of two-story architecture which populate many a Main Street, while also setting the story somewhere in the 1960s or 70s with depictions of fashion, vehicles, and technology that would make any caption regarding time and place extraneous. The interplay between streetlights, flashlights, and other sources of illumination all build the sense of isolation that comes from this place, too, developing a naturally eerie atmosphere that doesn't require any exaggeration to send a shiver down one's spine.
The handful of characters introduced in these pages remain distinctly lifelike, but offer up plenty of personality in their own designs. Friday's force of will and steady nature are obvious from the moment her block-like head appears. These designs do more than inform, too, suggesting the shape of the story to come. Lancelot's motives and history with Friday are only hinted at here, but he appears like a young man yet to realize that, as Ben Folds sang, "the 'whiz man' will never fit [him] like the 'whiz kid' did." These elements allow the first issue to slowly ease readers into this place and the people who inhabit it without being withholding. The experience is satisfying because many of the "clues" are presented beside the plot.
The pages in Friday #1 are testaments to how layout, design, and execution are essential to capturing a comics reader's attention. However, the "widescreen" delivery of Panel Syndicate publications leaves the vertically-oriented pages of this comic feeling like an artifact from standard publication requirements. The sole spread in the story is still split down the middle by a tree in the foreground, creating two vertical pages in any case. Given how past Panel Syndicate projects like The Private Eye and Universe! have utilized horizontal layouts to outstanding effect, this adherence to norms feels like a missed opportunity.
There's ample space left to utilize the opportunities presented by Panel Syndicate's format, though, as it's clear Friday #1 is designed as a first chapter. It is an introduction to many things, where the clearest statements are reserved for matters of themes and tone. While readers are only beginning to understand who Friday and Lancelot are (and are to one another) and what sorts of terrible mysteries haunt King's Hill, it's already apparent what these stories will focus upon. Friday's narration—beautifully arranged and lettered within each panel by Martin—emphasizes her reckoning with the subliminal space of early adulthood. It's a monologue focused on identity and consequences, all of it occupying the first few months of an independent life, yet defined by years of lived experience in childhood. Friday is a story that is already wrestling with what it means to be an adult, establishing its central conflict before defining its antagonist or mystery.
It's this novelistic approach to narrative combined with Martin's knack for subtly conveying so much information that makes Friday a thrilling comics debut, and the sort of first issue that allows you to forget the world outside of its pages. Every question raised here is interesting not because the answer is unknown, but because the answers are clearly contained in an appropriately dense world that is being constructed before our eyes to address universal concepts with a very specific comics portrait. Reading Friday #1 for the first time is a treat, but the most remarkable element of this issue is that subsequent readings are every bit as enthralling. Whatever comes next, Friday delivers a near-perfect introduction and leaves us with the welcome promise that there will be another chance to enter King's Hill, and briefly escape the confines of quarantine, very soon.
Published by Panel Syndicate
On April 15, 2020
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Marcos Martín
Colors by Muntsa Vicente
Letters by Marcos Martín