North Country (2005)

Who is Shane White and where has he been hiding himself? White is the creator of North Country, an amazing new graphic novel that is a triumph of craft and intelligence, passion and insight, subtlety and complexity. Where did this guy come from? Surely such an outstanding book can’t have sprung from the skull of someone undertaking his first graphic novel.

North Country is autobiographical, but don’t let that scare you away. Shane White’s mastery of the comics form is so complete that it will pull any long-time comics fan directly into the story. White deftly passes between different styles and different types of page rendering, never varying far from his standard nine-panel grid. White is tremendously effective at using the tricks of the comics trade to intensify mood. His coloring work, for instance, is gorgeous. There are several pages that take place in the snow of Upstate New York that use a gorgeous subdued color palette to convey mood, while others use a much hotter palette to convey deep and intense emotion. White is similarly intelligent in the ways he varies from his nine-panel grid, sometimes merging panels, other times showing parts of a scene in different panels, other times repeating images between several panels. Because North Country has a certain rhythm to it due to the structure White uses, the scenes that vary from the structure have an added impact to them. White’s art style also adds to the book. It’s very welcoming and friendly, but he enjoys varying his style to convey mood.

Of course, professional art is nothing if a story doesn’t match the art, and it’s here that White really shines. Shane White had a difficult childhood, which he conveys in specific detail. At the same time, though, he is open about sharing stories about the good times he had. This is not a book full of harrowing stories, but more an honest autobiography about a man who has moved past the things he hated, to find closure and peace through growing and maturation. There’s a scene towards the end involving White’s niece that was so honestly heartwarming that it brought a tear to my eye.

There are so many wonderful scenes in ths book: a young Shane selling his soul to the devil right before something terrible happens, the beautiful Norman Rockwell Christmases he experienced, the young Shane riding in the back of Shane’s car as he drives to his parents’ house. These stories are so real and so heartfelt and so well-created by White’s artistry that they really stick with a reader.

It’s exhilarating to read a comic by a new creator who’s already at the top of his form. North Country is a must read.


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