Ninety Candles Joint Review
Rant Comics $5.95
By Neil Kleid
ERIN: Ninety Candles is the story of Kevin Hall, a comic book creator, told in an improvisational form. There are 90 panels, each one a moment-in-time representing a consecutive year for Hall – 90 panels, 90 years. Kleid says in the introduction, “Ninety Candles is a completely improvisational comic book -- no script, no net. Each day is created THAT day. The original plan was to do a page per day and set three months as the cut off date for the story. Whatever I ended up with on Day Ninety would be the finale. Time and method become major factors in the narrative itself.”
KERRY: The art was really very good throughout Ninety Candles, but I especially enjoyed the panel layout. There are two years, one picture for each year, per page, but rather than the standard square or rectangular panels, they were circles. This made me feel like I was looking in on Kevin Hall through a pair of binoculars. The perspective of each circle felt a little like a photo through a fish-eye lens, where the subject is ultra prominent. This was extremely appropriate for this project and Kleid uses it effectively.
Kleid also uses the circle shaped panels to make the reader feel like a fly on the wall in Hall’s house, and therefore, life. The book is intensely personal and being forced to look at it as an uninvited guest makes some scenes a little uncomfortable and others all the more touching. I’m not sure if Kleid intended all this when opting for the circular shape, but it brought a lot of meaning to the book for me. It is used so successfully here that I wonder why this style isn’t employed in more books today.
ERIN: I, too, thought the layout and design of the book was well-employed. It created an atmosphere both intimate and detached, and controlled the pace of the book as well. One thought that came to me was what Scott McCloud said in “Understanding Comics” about the importance of what happens in the gutters. This was an incredible storytelling undertaking to have most of the implied story occur in the gutters. Kleid mostly very successfully revealed to the reader the implied action that transpired in the year gaps.
KERRY: Like the art, the story is also very good. I know Erin will disagree with me here, but I found Kevin Hall’s story to be a sad one. After I finished reading it, I told her that I thought the story was depressing, but the more I thought about it I decided it was pretty realistic. There are sad moments in life and sometimes it does get depressing. There are equally happy moments too and Hall’s life has its fair share. He loves his son and grandson and time with them is a reward. He wins an Eisner for his work and has a mostly successful career. The ending of the book is just so bittersweet and there are so many sad moments that it actually got me down after my first read.
ERIN: I didn’t think the story was depressing as much as it was poignant. To me there is a big difference between sad moments and a just plain depressing life. Kevin’s life may not have been what he imagined it would, and many turns of events didn’t go the way he would have liked, which did make him depressed at times. However, it’s the things he most likely never thought to imagine that made him the most fulfilled – the bonds between himself and his son and grandson.
KERRY: My only complaint about the look is its depiction of the women in Hall’s life. We don’t really see, but hear a lot from Kevin’s mother and wife. Both, but especially his mother, are unsupportive and critical of first his love of comics and then his work in them When one panel represents a year, and half of the childhood panels depict Kevin’s mother either putting down comics or Kevin himself, I get the feeling that his childhood wasn’t all that pleasant. Similarly, when a few panels revolve around husband and wife squabbles, I conclude that the Hall marriage went through some utterly unhappy periods. Did both the women in the story have to be portrayed as such harpies? This could be why I found the story so sad at first. Here is Kevin, a talented guy, with loved ones who are less than supportive. It would have been nice to see a little more understanding and love from the female characters in the book.
ERIN: You know, this aspect didn’t even occur to me. Interesting observation, Kerry. The only criticism I had was that the tones for the different speakers wasn’t as varied or distinct as they maybe could have been. But then, perhaps, maybe the reader just didn’t have enough information about the speakers to differentiate the tones while reading. Overall, though, this is a book that deserves a read, and more than anything, makes me anxious for what will come next from the author. Kleid is talented and I have no doubt that his next project will be even better than Ninety Candles.
KERRY: To wrap-up, I think Ninety Candles is great and definitely deserved the Xeric Grant Kleid received. When I first read about the concept, I had no doubt it would be interesting. I’m happy to report that it’s not only interesting, but rewarding as well.
Kerry’s Bottom Line: A
Erin’s Bottom Line: A-
For more information on Ninety Candles and Kleid’s other work, see his website here.