A Cyndi Lauper reference seems inapt: Venable and Crenshaw’s Eighth Kiss

Kiss Number 8 is a really long read. Just around 300 pages, without any natural or artificial breaks. I kept waiting for a good point to put it down, after this development or that development, but writer Colleen AF Venable doesn’t ever slow down. Not even when protagonist Amanda will have an incredibly stressful evening and fall asleep, it’s not like there’s a pause before the next day. Venable and artist Ellen T. Crenshaw work up a great momentum.

Amanda is narrating the story, which is about the circumstances of her eighth kiss (presumably kissing partner; it’s heavily implied she never had second kisses with her previous kissers). 8 is set in what seems like Ohio, but only if people in Ohio talk shit about people in Pennsylvania for being a nothing state? But it’s definitely set in 2004, which occasionally seems anachronistic. Amanda finds some really, really sincerely woke people in its not-at-all-big-city locations. Or maybe the guy was shit talking Pennsylvania and it takes place in Pennsylvania (because there’s a real Meadville, Pennsylvania). Does it matter? A bit. The time period setting feels a little pointless, like it almost makes the bigot characters more acceptable? But not exactly, because dealing with the repercussions of bigots’ actions are one of the places 8 goes but doesn’t want to investigate.

Venable’s got a very set path she’s taking the protagonist on. No stepping off to explore, no taking a break, just forward on the path.

See, Amanda’s got a very big half year or however long the present action takes. She finds out a family secret, which boils down to obscene amounts of mental cruelty and abuse (not on Amanda, but on another family member), and sets her on a path of self-discovery, which has some major consequences too, but only because the comic starts out being about Amanda and her friends living in this development—which never gets visually explored, which is weird until you think about how close Venable’s keeping the narrative distance. Crenshaw’s art is always good, but she never explores anything. It’s a little too accessible.

Of course, it’s targeting teen readers, which might be why the story stops when it does, just as things seem like they’re going to start getting really interesting for Amanda in terms of actual character development. The problem with her self-discovery arc is Venable keeps too much self-perception a mystery; it doesn’t seem right Amanda’s narration would skip over her most important decisions. It’s weird.

It’s one of those “it’s heart is in the right place” but its ambitions are truncated.

Maybe it’s just one of the genre specific pitfalls—YA graphic novels are, more than anything before, real “graphic novels.” Kiss Number 8 is all right, but given how front-loaded it ends up being… it seems even if YA graphic novels are their own medium, they’re still enough comics to desperately need the right editor.

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