Martin Peters original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Patrick Allaby
Publisher: Conundrum Press
Price: $15 US/CAN

This independent graphic novel from a young cartoonist came to my attention because he grew up in the city in which I now live, and he was doing a signing at a local comic shop. I’m always happy to support locally produced comics and talent, and I’ve had the fortune of discovering some truly great slice-of-life comics from the indie scene over the years. As I delved into this book, it wasn’t quite what I expected, and it definitely could have benefitted from some strong editorial guidance. But I have to admit, despite the flaws I found, I was fascinated by the book — not so much in terms of the story, but in witnessing the stylistic and plotting choices its creator made in its development. Patrick Allaby’s inexperience shows through here, but so does the potential for him to grow as a storyteller in future endeavors.

Martin Peters’ teenage years in Fredericton, the small capital city of New Brunswick, Canada, were decidedly awkward. Sure, everyone’s teenage years are awkward, but Martin was also struggling to keep his diabetes from those around him. Furthermore, he was particularly shy when it came to meeting girls, so when Katherine moved to his neighborhood, he was enthralled when they managed to make some kind of undefined connection and friendship. To say it blossomed into a relationship is a little generous, but it certainly represented a defining period of his young life — until a booze-laden party and his diabetes collided in spectacular fashion.

What’s most curious about this book is that it isn’t exclusively about the title character. There’s a rather detailed, illustrated introduction that delves into the creator’s own experiences with diabetes. It seems clearly aimed at demonstrating why Allaby was drawn to his chosen subject here, but ultimately, he seems intent on exploring his own life and choices as much as Martin’s. Allaby frequently disgresses about the process of creating this graphic novel — his meetings with Martin, his caveats about the storytelling choices, revelations that arose after the initial publication of the first couple of chapters as an ashcan. Though the book’s (ultimately reluctant) title character is at the centre of the storytelling, Allaby frequently turns the camera back on himself — too frequently, truth be told. He often interrupts the flow of his story to offer up what are essentially asides, almost as though he injected his “director’s commentary” right into the script.

Though I think Allaby needed someone to keep him on track, I was nevertheless interested in these digressions. They were incredibly telling. Though he explores a real-life acquaintance here, the book says just as much about the man crafting the narrative. He’s willing to expose himself here, which is intriguing. That being said, that contrasts with what turns out to be his main subject’s eventual rejection of the project. The back cover blurb is, oddly, a threat of legal action from the titular character, clearly dissatisfied with his portrayal and the attention the project has garnered (at least in this part of the country). I was both impressed with Allaby’s refusal to compromise, but also found that his shift from seeking Peters’ approval to ignoring his input to be puzzling. One could easily see his pursuit of the story as something of a dick move; it would be easy to tweak the details to hide his subject’s real identity while preserving the genuine tone of the character study. Furthermore, Allaby’s timidity shows through in some aspects of the book (in a note of thanks at the end of the book, he writes, “I hope you didn’t hate it, and didn’t find it objectionable. I really did try”), but his choice to stay true to his vision and thumb his nose at his subject’s wishes shows dedication to his craft.

Allaby’s cartooning style occasionally aims for realism, but overall, it’s mainly a simplistic, crude representation of the characters. That makes it more relatable, more accessible, mind you; the simpler look allows the audience to cast their own friends, homes and even selves into the story. I think the greatest shortcoming of the art is the failure to distinguish between key female characters. Katherine and her friend Gisele (who features prominently at the end of the story) are practically interchangeable as teenagers; if it weren’t for the script, I’d have had no idea she was a different character.

That people make bad choices as teenagers is hardly an epiphany, and Allaby definitely needs to focus on his plotting and flow. But overall, despite the missteps and shortcomings of Martin Peters, I’m surprised to say I’m glad I bought and read it. Just about everyone should be able to find something to which they can relate here (teenage Martin’s lack of confidence with girls resonated for me), but I ended up being more interested in the development of the cartoonist’s chops here. He’s definitely got more to learn, but the foundation upon which he’s building seems pretty solid. I would expect his next project to be stronger, as he hones his craft and learns from his mistakes. 5/10

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