The Audra Show doesn’t star a character named Audra, rather it’s the work of cartoonist Audra Stang. Though she’s obviously behind the scenes and her characters are right there in front, I would say that the Audra in the title of the book is apt since Stang’s sensibility is not one that hides behind the work. It’s right out in front on parade in these three issues alongside the characters. It’s the atmosphere her characters exist in and it delivers some unexpected and mysterious comics that grab your attention.
The first issue of The Audra Show focuses on Owen Minnow, who works at a fast-food restaurant in Star Valley, Georgia in 1988. He’s not too self-assured, but when he hits it off with Bea Allen on his lunch break after she shows him all her scars, things start to look up. But Owen is a natural-born victim — he gets harassed by his customers at the fast-food place and by a co-worker who can’t let it go that he’s obviously interested in Bea. But in the end, he and Bea bond in an unexpected way with a kind of sweet tolerance for difference that brings this slice of life together rather nicely.
The second issue fast forwards 20 years later. It’s still Star Valley, but now we are with Adelaide Lane and Bryson Yogurt, and their story hints at something bigger. It’s very definitely the future, at least in context of the previous issue, since now normal kids get to mess around with ice rays that they develop themselves. Adelaide and Bryson are bickering about one when they happen upon a person who shouldn’t be in Star Valley, and whose appearance is a little bit bizarre. Adelaide, though, has a theory.
In the third issue, both eras appear. In 1988, Bea is getting a talking-to from a friend, trying to convince her to quit the fast food place, though Bea doesn’t really want to since she has no problem with the job itself, but certain circumstances are making her wistful for the idea. Meanwhile in 2008 Adelaide has brought her companions to her house, gotten them some snacks, sat them in front of the television, and started to compile the evidence that will spell out her theory.
There’s a breezy and chaotic quality to Stang’s storytelling that is a huge part of the appeal, giving the reader the feeling that the comics have a life of their own and aren’t being limited by any parameters. The characters feel alive and their actions unpredictable. This gives the wider direction of the story a bit of mystery, the chaotic feeling offering undertones of randomness, which in some circumstances might not be a positive, but here I think is very definitely one, since it takes advantage of the energy of the cartoonish presentation. At the same time, Stang’s characters exhibit some nuance, indicating that there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.
Stang’s cartooning has the same effect visually, with a cartoony base that is fleshed out emotionally by the colorwork that adds a dash of surrealism and plenty of emotional heft. I’m definitely fascinated to see where this goes, though I hope is she able to up her pace a little bit. There have only been three issues in two years and I would love to see it more consistently if possible. But if not, The Audra Show can happily exist as a rare treasure.