Lil by Mike Young and Marc Crane is a dark plunge in the deep end of a twisted woman’s psyche. Implicitly noir, this atmospheric graphic novel is a relentless plummet into the life of Lil, a 35 year old waitress with an appetite for self-destruction. This indie noir comic project is daring in its unforgiving treatment of protagonist, and its hide-nothing approach to her life. Five issues have been released thus far, and the plot momentum is on a break-neck course towards the inevitable. Simply stated, Lil is a slice of tasty noir from a new creative team. (Best part? You can read it online here.)
“Where I’m from, most people end up a version of what they oughtta be…Damn near everybody’s a story of what they hope they’re not.”
The first issue, “Pulling at Strings,” is a promise; it places all the pieces on the board and leaves us to guess the first move. Lil is dripping in alcohol, angling for a ‘sugar daddy’ to pick up her tab. Matthew smells like cash, and has the right combination of gullibility and naivete that makes him a mark. She drags him to the bathroom, eager to ‘pay up’, where a bizarre duffle-bag is left by a loud stranger. Lil recognizes the opportunity and snags it, but it isn’t until she opens it that she realizes how truly screwed she is.
“I have my good days. And my bad days. But the bad days are getting worse.”
Lil vs. the noir definition:
1) The Seedy Underworld
The art is bleak and pulpy; a skeletal backdrop for the sinister demons in Lil’s mind. Dive bars, flea bag apartments, and cheap diners are real enough to leave the reader greasy. (And there’s a scene in the woods during Issue #2 that’s particularly impressive).
2) The Anti-Hero
Lil is a difficult character to understand. As an anti-hero, she foots the bill: a self-destructive addict in the shadow of looming threat. Yet, as a FEMALE protagonist she left me wanting. I couldn’t stop feeling that she was a regurgitated male desire; a hidden remnant of unexpressed sexual fantasy. Certainly, she’s introduced to us as a drunk, an addict, a manipulator, a thief, and eventually a ‘cutter’– but I felt that her behavior was so extreme that the common ground melted (Particularly in the first issue, when it appears that her entire character revolves around the desire for casual sex). As I continued reading, I could see that her character had the potential for depth, but I was frustrated to see her remain in the shallows.
3) The Femme Fatale
Lil appears to flip her charm on and off at will– I loved this. And despite certain flaws as a character, I felt that she’s developing into something terrible and beautiful. I need more!
Issue #5 has one of my favorite noir misogyny interactions. Lil is confronted with a waitress’ veritable nightmare; as an employee and as a woman. I won’t spoil it, but it nailed the theme of misogyny in noir.
We’re told that Lil ran away from an abusive home after her mother died. She hasn’t stopped running since. With a life like Lil’s, redemption isn’t an option– but it’s the only gleaming hope her character has. I couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to see her redeemed, but the painful part was realizing that she can’t be.
I felt Mike and Marc have missed on the eroticism theme thus far; they’ve approached titillation, but it’s been with a heavy male-centric hand (think Rick Remender’s The Last Days of American Crime). The delicate intricacies of eroticism can only be executed with a female protagonist if they begin to truly develop her as a self-actualized female survivor.
7) The Loss of Innocence
One of the strongest aspects of Lil is that no innocence remains. We look for solace anywhere in the dark panels, yet we’re constantly turned back on the harsh realities of her disgusting life. The inciting incident has already occurred, we arrive with the flashing lights.
8 ) Smoke
Oh, the lovely smoke chokes the pages and catches in the backs of our throats.
The story is a bit young for this theme to be fully realized– only a handful of male characters have been introduced, and none have remained in the plot through an adjacent issue.