Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

I admit- anyone who reads this column is going to know about my proclivity for all things of the superhero nature. Hank McCoy is not, however, disinterested in the offbeat and independent comic writers' efforts! Not at all!

In fact, as many of you know we are currently living in the sort of ‘renaissance’ of independent comics. That is, while big industry superhero comics continue to rake in big bucks at the box office and in the collected edition rack at Barnes and Noble people have finally sort of begun to appreciate the ‘medium’ of comics. In a way that we hadn’t previously.

So there are plenty of cool, creative, personal stories out there that get comic-booked rather than have a formal narrative. And it’s really interesting to see how an illustrator and writer work together to convey what they want to convey. I’m a fan of Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese and a host of other award-winning and nominated graphic novels. Lately I’ve been taking a little time out from my neverending quest to accumulate Marvel and DC comics lore to pick up and read Yang's latest Level Up.

The art is simple but it’s got just a hint of anime-ness that makes it evocative and the ‘flow’ of the action is smart and funny. As for the story I think Level Up is a good example of the idea that the best stories are HONEST.

In some ways the plot and the conflict are simple but it’s also very human. Level Up has less to do with video games than it might seem and a lot to do with growing up, moving past your adolescence tendencies and not fighting your career. And I think the kinds of tension the protagonist deals with are ones that we all encounter.

It’s not an easy thing to balance your passions with your work. Too much of either one can leave you aimless and adrift. Call me optimistic, but I’d like to think on a good day there’s room for both in one lifetime as an adult. It isn’t always the way you’d imagine it would be, but that doesn’t mean change is a bad thing.

All of this, of course, just speaks to the books title Level Up. Now a pop-culture household-term, inevitably leveling up in videos games is always a good thing. The question is: does leveling up in real life always a good thing? THIS is the essence of the book!

Level Up is about weathering change more than it’s about Final Fantasy. It’s sweet and short and an enjoyable read. Recommended.