by Ryan Paul

16 April 2003



(Oni Press)
US: Feb 2003

Black and White

People expect certain things from their entertainment. They expect certain rules to be followed. There’s a formula for love stories, one for action stories, one for horror stories, and 99% of the successful stories out there follow those formulas. One of those standard conventions, found in nearly every narrative art-form, is that there is a good guy (or girl) and a bad guy (or girl). Audiences need someone to cheer and someone to jeer. But, what happens when some artist strays from that formula? When there isn’t a good guy and a bad guy? When it isn’t black and white?

Christine Norrie provides us with an example of just such a deviation. In the past, Norrie has primarily been an artist, working on such popular indie titles as Hopeless Savages and Heartbreakers. With her new graphic novel Cheat, Norrie has struck out on her own as a writer, telling an true-to-life story about relationships and how they fall apart.

Being a female writer and artist in an industry dominated by males breaks conventions from the very start. But Norrie doesn’t stop there. Her story is about relationships, marriage, love, and betrayal. It is not about superheroes in spandex. Another convention shattered. Norrie’s work boasts a simple, black and white, stylized look, not the hyper-realistic color-drenched look of the big publishers. Another formula nixed. But what are most remarkably un-stereotypical about this book are its characters.

In most stories, there’s someone to like and someone to dislike. They need not be heroes and villains. It could be just one person who’s a generally decent, likeable fellow, and another who’s a bit of a bastard. In a story about sexual betrayal, you’d expect such a contrast to be even more apparent. But Cheat presents characters who are very real and very believable. And each character has his or her own share of flaws and virtues, no one person better than another. And that is what makes it such a refreshing read.

Two couples, close friends, move into the same apartment building. As her marriage begins to feel a bit less romantic because of the everyday routine and strain, Janey finds herself drawn into a close friendship with Davis, the husband of the other couple. In 64 pages, Norrie manages to tell a very poignant story about how easy it is to lose sight of the larger issues in life and let yourself get swept away in something that feels good, even though you know it isn’t.

Norrie’s soft touch on the story and the artwork really brings the book to life. The characters are sketched out simply, both in the narrative sense and the artistic sense. Their lives unfold naturally, not dramatically. And the little events that occur along the pathway to the climax and inevitable conclusion feel like events that many of us have gone through. The characters, the events—they are universal. Any of us could have lived through what happened in this book, or know someone who did.

While the artwork of the book is black and white, the story certainly isn’t. It isn’t about good guys and bad guys. OK, maybe Davis comes off as a bit of a jerk by the end, but he’s still a real person, and a likable, charming one at that. The tragedy of the story is that what Janey does hurts us just as it hurts her husband Marc, because just like him, we believed in her, we had faith that she would do the right thing. And in the end, while we may be disappointed and sad, we can’t be angry.

So what happens when someone decides to break from the pack and do something different? Well, sometimes, they produce a wonderfully original piece of work like this, and, with any luck, enjoy the success that they’ve earned.

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