As genres go there are few more worn than the coming of age story. There's something comfortable about them and their familiarity as, no matter the individual details of the story, they always manage to connect to some part of the reader's own experience being young and trying to find their place in the world, along with a sense of self. When the story deviates too far from the "normal" misfit youth experience by throwing in elements of the fantastical or unbelievable, it runs the risk of losing that relatability. Fortunately, writer Curt Pires and artist Alex Diotto's Youth #1 manages to smash together the familiar and the fantastic in a way that is real, raw, and full of promise.
Youth #1 roots itself in elements that are so familiar that they border on the cliché starting on the first page. We meet our main characters: Frank, a high school student with green hair and an attitude working a fast food job where he's mistreated both by his manager on a power trip and bigoted customers and River, a young man with an overbearing step-father unwelcome in River's life. Unhappy in their current circumstances, the pair decide that the best thing for them to do is get out of town, riding off into the sunset together. There's no new ground tread here, but instead of those familiar tropes feeling too familiar, Youth #1 weaves details into things that give Frank and River more relevance. Frank's race, both boys' sexuality‚and their budding relationship—are all layers that make the characters a bit more interesting in the standard "let's run away from this town" type of adventure, even before encountering the truly life-altering events in this issue.
That doesn't mean Youth #1 isn't without some conveniences and clichés. Their great escape out of town is both too easy and too predictable until a real obstacle comes into their path. There's the expedient introduction of what becomes Frank and River's tribe of sorts. There's the caricatured Kurt who is too much of everything to rise off the page, and, perhaps most puzzling, is the speedy introduction of a complication in Frank and River's relationship.
Yet, while those elements feel contrived, they serve as a reminder that life comes at you fast, especially when you're young. There's no mystery to Youth #1 just yet, but what blindsides the characters also blindsides the reader as well. It's in the final panels of Youth #1 where the story really begins and "youth" as the characters know it ends. It's a hard shock, a sharp turn and it feels authentic in a way few other coming of age stories do.
That authenticity is what makes Youth #1 transcend its genre leanings. Frank and River feel authentic; they feel like real teens in the real world. Their angst and their suffering as well as small moments of joy ring true, and Pires does an excellent job of writing both characters in a distinctive fashion fitting their presentation. Diotto's art, while not particularly intricate or detailed, beautifully captures the kinetic, nervous energy that is the uncertainty of youth, along with the conflicting emotions and storm of hormones. Dee Cunniffee's colors bring it all together.
Ultimately, while Youth #1 has moments that feel too engineered, the heart of the story is one that beats with a fresh and refreshing honesty. Youth #1 aches in a way that few coming of age stories do. It makes you see yourself in its characters and prompts investing yourself in knowing what happens next when the unbelievable finally occurs and changes everything.
Published by ComiXology Originals
On May 12, 2020
Written by Curt Pires
Art by Alex Diotto
Color by Dee Cunniffee
Letters by Micah Myers