By Zack Quaintance — I’m from Chicago, but I spent a few years in rural Illinois, working as a reporter for small town newspapers in places like Carterville, Carbondale, and Peoria. Now, you probably don’t know where any of those towns are. Heck, I left Southern/Central Illinois 11 years ago, and I barely remember them. Writer Skottie Young and artist Jorge Corona’s Middlewest #1, however, brought me back. More than that, it made me see those rural Midwestern places I one knew well in a different sort of light.
Middlewest #1 is one of those comics that deals heavily in tone, doing so by burrowing deep into forlorn isolation that’s inherent to towns like Carterville, Illinois, towns that most folks only ever find themselves driving through if they take a wrong turn while coming off the highway for gas (and then another wrong turn, and then probably another one). What it finds when it does that burrowing is magic. Magic born from loneliness, from wind that never ceases, from the feeling that washes over you when you look alone to the horizon and see fields, infinite and vast and flatter than you ever thought possible.
What takes this comic from an interesting experiment in tone (one that resonates well with me personally) to a book I plan to follow through at least its first arc is the plot that the creators pair with the lonely Midwestern aesthetic. I don’t want to go into too many details, but Middlewest #1 is a story about a young boy with a callous and demanding father, all too ready to tip into cruelty when the opportunity presents itself. This in itself isn’t a particularly novel plot and it doesn’t have to be. Tropes become tropes because they work, because they’re such solid bricks to build a full house upon, and the house that Young and Corona build with their magic forged through introspection is an impressive one indeed. Also, there’s a talking fox that will probably continue to absolutely steal scenes (if not entire issues).
I heartily recommend this comic to all and any who have spent time in the rural Midwest, who have lived there or had family there, or really have ever just looked listlessly out the window as they drove through, wondering what life was like for the real people born into all that space. This comic might just have the answer.
Overall: Middlewest #1 is a story steeped in a lonely sort of magic born from writer Skottie Young’s deep familiarity with the rural Midwest. Artist Jorge Corona renders it with vast imagination, capturing a unique sort of forlorn tone that I never before realized was always present in those areas. 8.5/10
Writers: Skottie Young
Artist: Jorge Corona
Colorist: Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Letterer: Nate Piekos of Blambot
Publisher: Image Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.