Review: Follow the Leader #2

By Ben Boruff

Innocence, as a concept, intrigues me. If innocence if inexperience, then children must be innocent—unless they have experience. But most children do not fully understand the experience they have, which is why juveniles are treated differently than adults in legal proceedings. So the majority of juveniles must be innocent, right? Jonas McCluggage's Follow the Leader does not answer this question, but it does offer several nuanced portrayals of innocence.

Follow the Leader is also filled with restless mobsters and young cannibals.

Again, the concept of innocence intrigues me.

Follow the Leader's second issue reads like a bloody version of a William Blake poem. Depictions of naiveté and purity permeate a narrative that, at its core, is a commentary on youth and acceptance. Larranceville's local park is a carnivorous Neverland filled with hungry Lost Boys.

This issue focuses more on plot than theme, which means that the story moves faster than the first issue. By the end of the first issue, the tone is set and battle lines are drawn, so the second issue spends much of its time filling the story’s framework with narrative plaster. Characters become more layered, and the city of Larranceville evolves from a blurry background to a multifaceted suburban ecosystem. Most importantly, McCluggage dedicates several pages to the cult that lives in the park.

McCluggage humanizes several seemingly “feral” park-dwelling characters, but the ominous “hunger” of the first issue does not disappear. Though readers learn names and backstories of several previously unnerving characters, a sinister presence still flows through this issue. McCluggage peppers the issue with reminders of Larranceville’s oppressive evil: One panel captures the worried face of a battle-hardened mafia leader, and the corner of another panel is inhabited by two yellow eyes and a crooked, belligerent smile.

On its surface, Follow the Leader is a story about the friction between the mafia and a cannibalistic cult, but most readers will find more than escapist entertainment in the comic’s pages. The narrative explores significant issues like longing and innocence, and it does so with an impressive level of empathy. Though the young cultists are ferocious, they are naïve. The mafia is both aggressive and tired. Readers are not coerced into connecting with any specific character. Instead, McCluggage fans the characters out in front of the reader like a deck of cards and says, “Pick one.”

Score: 4/5

Follow the Leader #2
Writer/Artist: Jonas McCluggage
Publisher: Self-published

Review: Follow the Leader #1

By Ben Boruff

My quiche is cold. I am a self-labeled glutton, and the café downtown makes a near-perfect broccoli-and-cheddar quiche. About 40 minutes ago, I ordered a slice, poured myself some hazelnut coffee, and sat down to read the first issue of Jonas McCluggage's Follow the Leader, a kaleidoscopic saga about violence, death, and hunger. After opening with an ominous depiction of death, the comic introduces Paris, an aging mafia member who is asked to facilitate gang business in a town called Larranceville. I consumed the following 30-plus pages in a few frantic minutes—and then I sat for a long while, quietly, somberly, thinking about what I had just experienced.

Eventually, I noticed that my quiche was cold. I never let my quiche get cold.

Before enjoying the delicacies of McCluggage's nuanced narrative, most readers will feast on the comic's multicolored artwork. The thick-lined silhouettes of McCluggage's weathered characters pop from the panels, contrasting the comic's often hazy, uncomplicated backgrounds. This disparity in detail highlights McCluggage's commitment to meaningful characterization: Follow the Leader is, in part, about people and the choices they make.

Paris is more than the high-ranking, Wolfe-esque member of an expanding mafia: Paris is a Titan, a Promethean protagonist who equips himself with conviction and a gun in an attempt to strong-arm the stubborn truth that he is not the most powerful entity around. A new power—a hunger—lives in Larranceville, and Paris learns slowly that his old ways—"grind your bones to make my bread," as he explains—will do little to combat the cannibalistic longing of the beings that watch from the local park.

Few stories have the ability to push quality quiche from my mind, but just a few pages of Follow the Leader seemed to eliminate my usual midday hunger. The comic's dialogue is smart, and the plot moves effortlessly. The most alluring aspect of this comic, however, is its ability to camouflage horror as mystery and violence. Behind the colorful panels and mafia-driven plot lies a ghoulish presence, a presence that seeps into the reader's consciousness slowly, forcefully, like dark clouds overtaking a once-bright spring day. Without warning, the narrative bares its teeth and bites.

Most readers will gain a better understanding of the consequences of hunger. Follow the Leader seems to assert that nourishment is a solemn sacrifice from one entity to another. Near the end of the comic, a park-dwelling creature asks Paris an important question: "Remind me...of Cain and Abel's two offerings, which did God favour the most?"

The one with blood. That is the answer.

Score: 5/5
Follow the Leader #1
Writer/Artist: Jonas McCluggage
Publisher: Self-published 

Check out the webcomic as well!

Review: Snow Brigade

By Ben Boruff

Close your eyes and listen to "Snow Brigade" by Mew, a Danish alternative rock band. Shed yourself of the day's weight and allow the quick-fingered bass riffs and high-pitched vocals to overwhelm your brain. As the song's foreboding bridge gives way to the chorus about forty seconds in, take a deep breath, and ignore any part of your mind that does not appreciate progressive rock. Exhale slowly when you hear a youthful voice sing, "I’ll find you somewhere / Show you how much I care / Know that there is no / Escape from my snow brigade." What did you hear?

If you heard regret, longing, some whimsy, and hints of anger, you sensed the same emotions that exist in Snow Brigade, a haunting new comic by Jonas McCluggage that, according to the comic's dedication page, is inspired by Mew's alternative mini-ballad about cold, single-minded yearning.


Snow Brigade is a mystery-based, one-shot comic about a girl’s struggle to save a little boy. Marlena, a babysitter, is fighting against guilt and disbelief to recover memories of Ricky, a missing boy who enjoys skating. The narrative is simple, but it is revealed to the reader one small moment at time, which gives it an air of complexity. The reader is spoon-fed plot points through expositional dialogue and flashback panels. In many stories, such narrative gimmicks seem condescending, but the flow of Snow Brigade is the result of McCluggage’s commitment to a lean plot. Every panel matters. Like a less frustrating version of the Oracle from The Matrix, McCluggage tells “you exactly what you needed to hear, that's all.”

The comic’s artwork matches the simplicity of the narrative, and it highlights the emotional distance between Marlena and the other characters. Every panel features only a robust blue or red tint—sometimes both. The slightly shaky, hand-drawn characters and the bold colors create a suburban universe that flicks back and forth between reality and Marlena’s dreamlike mental state.

Snow Brigade’s dedication page notes a second song, and I recommend that readers play this song immediately after reading the comic’s last panel. The song, “Cartoons and Macramé Wounds” by Mew, is a seven-minute ode to the sad whimsies of those who create worlds for other people. The song starts with a somewhat light melody that acknowledges good intentions—“You drew me cartoons / So playful”—and slowly evolves into a percussion-heavy, multi-voice climax that lasts for several minutes. The lyrics of the song’s last few minutes—“Drawn and held with you / This is what we do / We are leaving wounds”—suggest unresolved pain, and this is the same feeling that lingers after reading Snow Brigade.

Score: 4/5

Snow Brigade
Writer/Artist: Jonas McCluggage
Publisher: Self-published

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