THE NEW YORK FOUR is almost as much of a tour book as a graphic novel. Artist Ryan Kelly duplicates actual Big Apple scenes down to the billboards and graffiti practically, and writer Brian Wood splatters the text with you-are-there descriptions of the locale. He offers sightseeing tips, restaurant guides, record store reviews and more; it’s like getting a tour of the sites used in the making of the story while you’re still reading the story.
It’s a fun concept for a graphic novel, and with an illustrator as talented as Kelly, one whose work so effortlessly captures real life and true human features, it’s a natural. Wood unfortunately dips into pedantry at times with his descriptions (he assumes his audience is not only completely unaware of New York, but also doesn’t know who Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison are). No matter. THE NEW YORK FOUR has more than enough charm to make up for this, starting with the fact that it’s delightfully free of melodrama. It’s not purposely dark and insular.
While THE NEW YORK FOUR is ostensibly about four friends, the title could just as easily be about the 4 subway train. That’s how deeply into the heart of the city the book delves, and how much it succeeds in capturing the look and feel of the city. The story centers primarily on just one of the gang of four (the other three are fascinating too, but they’re seen mostly in sequel-preparing glimpses). Riley is a native New Yorker, but her freshman year at NYU is her first trip into Manhattan. She’s been raised by obsessively overprotective parents in Brooklyn, pushed to excel academically but not allowed to develop her own interests. Even her personality is sheltered and underformed.
Riley’s older sister was sheltered the same way, but she managed to escape years ago and hasn’t spoken to her parents ever since. Now living with her boyfriend in downtown Manhattan, she’s the wild child Riley longs to be, and her influence helps Riley to finally exert some of her own personality.
THE NEW YORK FOUR centers mostly on Riley’s quest for independence and her burgeoning social life, as well as her flirty text-message-only relationship with a mysterious stranger known only as Sneakerfreak. Riley and Sneakerfreak finally meet face-to-face in the final act of the novel, and it leads to the most surprising twist of the story and positions Riley and the rest of her cohorts for more interesting journeys in the city that never sleeps. That’s good news. It will be fun to spend some more time --- and to get plenty more New York City tips and tricks --- in subsequent stories.
Reviewed by John Hogan on July 22, 2008
The New York Four