Hope comes in many shapes. In Josue Menjivar’s Broken Fender, a young criminal struggles with his life of crime, and finds himself at a unique, unexpected crossroads. What path will he take?
The Obligatory Warning: drug use, death, violence, obscene content. Not for kids.
The first tale,
Iowa, follows the life of a poor, lower-class criminal named Dylan. He assaults strangers for money, which he pays to his abusive, drug-addict father. There’s plenty of slice-of-(criminal)-life writing out there, both in comix and mainstream prose, but Josue Menjivar’s story distinguishes itself.
Iowa is surprisingly thoughtful and emotionally demanding. Menjivar’s cramped layouts contribute to Dylan’s claustrophobic moral situation: rob, or be beaten by his father. Dylan finds freedom through old comics, and the only time the layout expands beyond nine frames a page is when Menjivar shows Dylan losing himself in a Jack Kirby back issue.
Iowa doesn’t depend on shock or titillation like many similar stories do. The crime and depravity is a part of the story, but doesn’t drive the action; Dylan’s own soul-searching takes center-stage. Moreover,
Iowa’s is an ethically subtle universe. Evil is prevalent, but kindness pops out of an occasional gopher hole, refusing to submit to an uncaring city.
Iowa’s only arguable failure is its stubbornly open-ended conclusion. When the reader has been put through that kind of a demanding tale, one might propose they deserve a more satisfying conclusion. At the same time,
Iowa’s ending is consistent with the tone and uncertainty of the rest of the story. Its ending aside,
Iowa is still a powerful yarn about redemption, the transformative power of art, and the unlikely miracle of everyday goodness.
Broken Fender has four other vignettes. A Bowl Full of Happiness has a clever concept, but fails to deliver any laughs. The Habitual Ritual is visually exciting, but indulges in its accusation too enthusiastically. Treinta’s quiet simplicity complements its open-ended mystery, but the last tale, Quiet Apology, struggles too hard to seem significant.
Despite the overall weakness of the last four stories,
Iowa is a powerful novella that all indie fans—and even some mainstream fans who don’t mind black and white—would do well to seek out.