November Vol. 1: The Girl on the Roof
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Elsa Charretier
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: Kurt Ankeny
Publisher: Image Comics
Considering Matt Fraction’s popularity, his new graphic novella has stayed surprisingly under the radar. But that just means readers will be in for a lovely surprise upon a visit to their local comic book store today when presented with the easily digestible but emotionally stirring noir story.
November showcases Fraction at his best, when he’s telling intimate stories about characters in extreme circumstances. The tone is reminiscent of Last of the Independents, his excellent crime comic illustrated by Kieron Dwyer that was published all the back in 2003.
Fraction understands character better than almost any writer in comics. Science-fiction and fantasy elements tend to only distract from his lovable and sympathetic protagonists. By keeping November more grounded than some of his other projects, Fraction doesn’t have to sacrifice real estate to a high concept. Instead, he’s able to focus on his uniquely identifiable characters and their reactions to extreme circumstances.
Elsa Charretier’s linework is perfectly suited for character-centric noir stories. Every face on the page is distinct, and her expressive art style allows the characters’ emotions to shine through, even in the moments the protagonists wish they could mask them. Her use of negative space is masterful with a use of shadows that heightens moments of danger and loneliness.
Matt Hollingsworth’s flat coloring style is a perfect match for a noir comic. He clearly knows his way around dark alleys and seedy streets. Hollingsworth’s experience on titles starring Marvel’s street-level heroes shows in every panel.
The first volume of November is comprised of vignettes that tie a larger crime story that expands beyond this first volume. It’s neatly separated into chapters, following one man and three women through an interconnected narrative that all four play a part in.
Chapter 1: The Girl on the Roof sees a woman named Dee made an offer that asks very little of her but pays very well. But her life quickly life spins out of control for taking it.
Chapter 2: The Gun in the Puddle spotlights a woman down on her luck who tries to do the right thing and is quickly punished for it.
Chapter 3: The Nature of the Emergency tells the story of Kowalski, a 911 dispatcher who senses something is wrong.
Chapter 4: The Thief stars the man who made the offer to Dee and goes back to the moment he sees an opportunity.
Chapters 1 and 4 are intriguing but both feel incomplete since they spend the most pages setting up the plot for subsequent volumes of November. It’s difficult to be too excited about story developments that won’t that are months from publication.
Chapters 2 and 3 are the most satisfying as independent reads, perhaps because they feature characters disconnected from any criminal enterprise. Since there’s little mystery behind the two women, they feel the most fully realized and relatable.
Every chapter takes place in a distinct setting, which gives Elsa Charretier the opportunity to make them all feel distinct. That’s further enhanced by Hollingsworth’s color palettes, which focus on a different one or two colors with each chapter.
Unfortunately, despite its obvious beauty, Kurt Ankeny’s lettering is a hindrance of the graphic novella. The captions don’t present any issues but his dialogue is just difficult enough to make out that it detaches the reader from the reading experience. Despite a worthy attempt at more artful lettering, his work falls short in regards to readability, the most important metric.
November Vol. 1: The Girl on the Roof leaves readers with as many questions as answers, as any good noir should. But the experience is largely satisfying on its own merits and leaves the audience eager for more. Seeing Fraction return to his crime comic roots is a joy, and he’s brought an excellent creative team along with him for the ride.