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Discover Better Place By Duane Murray & Shawn Daley

Writer: Duane Murray
Artist: Shawn Daley
Guest artists: Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Farel Dalrymple, Tyler Boss, Jim Rugg, and Nate Powell
Top Shelf / IDW
$19.99

Better Place is a story about a young boy named Dylan whose life is upended by a move to a new house in the suburbs. The prospects of making new friends is nil but Dylan but his grandad has a plan. It is the debut graphic novel of actor and screenwriter Duane Murray whose credits include Impulse, Molly’s Game, and Spotlight, to name a few. Indy cartoonist Shawn Daley’s work includes the graphic novels TerraQuill, The Bridgebuilder’s Creed, Samurai Grandpa, OGRE, and Shiner’s War.

Being a celebration of childlike whimsy and imagination, an ode to comics of yesteryear, a love letter between a grandfather and grandson, Better Place is one of those stories that will sit with you long after reading it. The playfulness and love of comics is evidenced right from the start with Grandad and Dylan dressed up as the sci fi adventuring duo Red Rocket and Kid Cosmo set out to explore the universe by which I mean a local parking garage and not much a space ship as Grandad joyfully pushing an exuberant Dylan in a shopping cart until an accident happens. It’s at this point when Murray and Daley introduce Dylan’s overworked and stressed mother Eileen to reveal the bigger picture that what threatens Red Rocket’s and Kid Cosmo’s continuing exploits isn’t a cosmic menace but something for more mundane, her father’s declining health and Eileen’s efforts to persuade her father to move to Wise Oaks, an assisted living facility whose brochures promise as “A Better Place to Live”.

Readers may find themselves reflected in Dylan and the relationship he has with his grandad. This was certainly the case for me as childhood memories of my grandmother and the ways comics sparked my fascination resurfaced. While this is the primary relationship on which the story is constructed, I believe two other perspectives are offered to enrich the narrative, those of Grandad and Eileen. In the face of his failing health these adventures give Grandad a renewed purpose; they fulfill a desire to live in the moment and experience that joy; and to create memories for his grandson that will outlast him. One can easily dislike Eileen solely on the basis of her mounting frustration with her father’s unexpected mishaps and for her insistence he move to assisted living. Like so many adults in our society today Eileen is stuck with the obligations of work, ironically as a real estate agent finding homes for people, and the pressures of raising a child and the heartache and frustrations of being a caregiver to an ailing parent while trying not to fall into an emotional abyss as the situation progresses to its inevitable conclusion. She’s ill equipped and overwhelmed and can only tell her son that Grandad has gone to “a better place” one morning when Dylan discovers Grandad isn’t there to set off a new adventure. Dylan sets out to find his hero only to be left to grapple with the truth of the situation.

Thankfully Murray and Daley don’t leave Dylan and Eileen perpetually lost to their grief. Drawing upon their own intimate experiences Murray and Daley create a path for Dylan to navigate his emotions and in turn reach out to connect with his mother in a way that both strengthens their relationship and wistfully honors Grandad’s spirit.

Daley’s art is immediately likeable, friendly, warm, emotive, perfectly suited to convey both the many quiet moments and the lighthearted action sequences. Most of the art is in black and white soothing with grey washes. A very slight pebbly gray texture similar to that of watercolor paper leads me to think Daley may well have used this as his drawing surface. Perhaps it’s added digitally. In either case, it’s a very pleasing and tactile quality. A limited use of color to highlight select comic oriented panels creates a striking impact. All in all, Daley’s style is the perfect complement to Murray’s writing. The guest art sprinkled throughout the book is just chocolate ganache icing on the best cake you can imagine. IDW has a teaser trailer to watch too.

The storytelling aesthetic of a Better Place should appeal to readers who enjoy the work of Jeff Lemire, Nate Powell, and the other artists credited for their guest contributions. The inclusion of their work in Better Place wasn’t by accident or lucky draw out of a hat. The graphic novels of cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki (Skin, This One Summer) comes to mind also. Setting those examples aside, anyone who has felt deep grief over a loved one will likely find Better Place to be a comforting and warm embrace of a story.

Look for Better Place at your favorite comic shop or book store or ask for a copy to be ordered with this ISBN 9781603094955. The Diamond order code is APR210626. If all else fails, you can order a digital or print copy from Amazon. Gay League will earn a commission if you make a purchase after clicking the link.

October 28, 2021
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