Watercolour comics are so soothing to the eye and almost embrace you as you read. I always think these books are there for comfort but sometimes they can betray you. The idyllic scenes of Alaska are gorgeously depicted as the light colours and white washed snow bring tranquillity and calmness. The set up is classic; alpha male father uproots his family to the middle of nowhere, much to the upset of his beta son who passively aggressively rebels. This upsets his father, more especially when he is brought home by the police for trespassing in, of all the places, a library. The preceding three issues were impressive in slowly building a story with intrigue and suspense, revolving around this relationship. Masters begins with something innocent such as posting a photo of the drunk Dad on social media to having a trespasser try to invade the family home. All the whispers and overheard conversations lead Teddy to re-enact his own detective fantasies and work out why he feels so estranged not only in place but in mind.Masters uses the internal monologue to construct the youthful naïveté and general teenage angst of our central character. Sympathy is garnered for Teddy as we move through the story because his father is just a very unlikeable person. Wishing his son was into drinking and chasing girls is not a dislikeable aspect of his Dad, it represents a lack of connection. That is a very normal concept but it’s the moral ineptitude that develops genuine concern. It is often times of desperation and danger that bring the true measure of a man to the surface. The story moves into not just a coming of age story, but a fear for life horror as Ted deduces he is involved in a witness relocation program. There are a number of moments where this book brings violence and terror. The stunning opening letterbox page shows the woods in all their snow covered glory and instantly moves to a cabin where the peace is disrupted by the wielding of a shotgun.
Jenkins’ characters are drawn with distinction, with Teddy tall and gaunt with a posture lacking confident. His father stands with pride and fearless striking intimidation to everyone around him. The detailing is minimalistic but pertinent throughout all expressions, and it is impressive how Teddy looks like his mother, further distancing the relationship between father and son. The accompanying characters are also very unique and recognisable to any reader. There is an interesting dynamic between foreground and background because the dusk watercolours of tree silhouettes disappear with physical confrontations. The tension and emotion of the violence emanates from the two characters and reddens the background. The intensity removes everything else from view and it is within these moments, that the truth is revealed. The complete calmness exhibited by Bill in murdering Annie is exemplified by the yellow surrounds, intimating cowardice. Whereas the action terrifies Teddy and the redness of the panel manifests his fear and the bloodshed. The blue backgrounds of the final pages bring definiteness as a decision is made and the future of the family will be decided. The actions Teddy will take, will change him forever.
Where Master excels is bringing a comic full of terror and violence into a seemingly placid environment, but instilling the themes of self-actualisation and paternal disappointment. This is a coming of age book that is brought out by the worst possible events: Realising that your father is a vindictive and callous murderer. Those initial thoughts of isolation and estrangements were not just teenage growing pains but real sentiments of fear and loathing. His resignation was not due to his own personal anxieties but real emotions towards the terrible man that is his father. Releasing that burden is easily done once a child becomes an adult and leaving home is an option. But no, not here. Teddy has to make a life or death decision that balances his worth as a human being and integrity as a son. This finale is frightening and nauseating but so incredibly intense. Jenkin’s watercolours bring not only beauty to the page but emotional vibrance to the writing. They are anything but soothing and comforting but are equally as powerful when depicting the converse. When all is said and done, the yellow colours of the page bear sadness and resolution to Teddy’s mind. It is time to move on and begin life anew in a place far away from Alaska.
This series had a strong finish.