I got off the subway this evening at my usual stop, from my usual position at the door directly ahead of the conductor, which lets me off right in front of the exit. But as my neighbors and I squeezed off the train I got edged just far enough back from the front of the pack that it was impossible to break free. I was caught in the mob, trapped in second gear, forced to wait my turn at the turnstile and on the stairs. And as we shuffled up to the surface I noticed how the melting snow had left behind this horrible black goop slopped into the creases of every tread in the staircase, and I started composing a footnote.
The horrible black goop on the stairs is the same crust of soot that covers the snowdrifts on the sidewalks up on the street. It gets mixed in with the snow as it falls, but at first it's hard to see: it's too thinly distributed. But when the snow melts, most of the soot is left behind, so you get smaller and smaller snowdrifts that turn blacker and blacker and blacker. The rest is carried as silt by the melting snow as it drains into the stairwells, and is left behind on the steps.
All true, but I wondered why the sudden urge to analyze a random corner of urban living. But then I thought, Oh. It's because I've been reading the new Finder collection.
Finder is a black and white science-fiction comic that Carla Speed McNeil started self-publishing in 1996. It has gotten a lot of critical notice over the years but has achieved nowhere near the wide readership it deserves. It's been picked up by Dark Horse: they published the first new story volume in years this week, called Voice, and will be collecting the previous seven volumes in two omnibus editions this year.
What's it about? It's about life a very very very long time from now, when most humans (and humanish people) are living in vast domed cities but some people (human or otherwise) live outside the walls. It's about culture and the ways we fight the rules we live under. It's about the things that we decide make our lives worth living, and the ways we protect them. It's about a drifter named Jaeger who comes and goes, who's an outsider everywhere, and how he gets in and out of trouble. (Women are often involved.)
McNeil's characters are vivid, sensitive, thoroughly realized. Her art is gorgeous. (I mean, check out the kid leaping along the top of her blog. So expressive. When she draws people dancing, you can feel the air they displace as they move.) And her worldbuilding is top-notch. It's so dense, in fact, that the various volumes all have extensive footnotes in the back, just to point out all the cool stuff that would otherwise be missed as the story sweeps along. That young woman? Studying for full adult acceptance into the clan of her birth, which in her case means hours of mental mathematics. That girl? Actually a guy, but her clan all looks female. That vine covered with television screens? Grows like kudzu. Runs pirate broadcasts. Every square inch of what you can see has a story.
I've got a real sweet tooth for dense worldbuilding myself, and McNeil's knack for invented anthropology just floors me. Between the comics and the footnotes, I can read and reread Finder for hours. I met McNeil at the NY Comic Con in the fall and had a total fanboy meltdown, burbling excitedly at her for much too long and then only realizing after I walked away that I'd left out the part where I actually introduce myself. ([Facepalm].)
I really should be in bed right now. I just finished packing for Boskone -- too many shirts, for sure, but I couldn't decide -- and I'm crazy tired, and the bus to Boston waits for no man. But I wanted to put this out there. You should be reading Finder.