Local started out as a collection of twelve done-in-one short stories, each set in a different North American city, and featuring a young woman named Megan McKeenan. It was planned to come out once a month for a year, but wound up taking over two years to complete. In the course of the run it changed into interconnected stories (although most of them are still fairly self-contained, with the exception of the final story), some featuring Megan only indirectly. As a result it became a much deeper character study than the original plan would have allowed: we see Megan get another year older with each installment, literally growing up before our eyes.

Brian K. Vaughan called the series "the sharpest slices of life the medium has ever seen." I completely agree, and in fact I'd call these stories some of the sharpest slices of life I've seen in any medium. "Slice of life" often implies a couple of things: autobiography, and "real life" as in normal, everyday life. Wood and Kelly frequently avoid both of those expectations. Autobiography is only present in an obvious way in a few of the location choices. And there are several situations Megan finds herself in which are (hopefully!) not normally part of everyday life.

All of the characters are sharply drawn nevertheless, even the ones we only see for a short time. An obvious approach for discussion would be to take each of the twelve chapters in turn. I thought I'd kick off the discussion with some general impressions, but I'm up for going through it in detail if everyone else is.

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It was planned to come out once a month for a year, but wound up taking over two years to complete. In the course of the run it changed into interconnected stories (although most of them are still fairly self-contained, with the exception of the final story), some featuring Megan only indirectly. As a result it became a much deeper character study than the original plan would have allowed: we see Megan get another year older with each installment, literally growing up before our eyes.

Was it originally supposed to be more about the locations and evolved away from that too, or is that just something I dreamed up?

I found the work kind of perplexing, while I definitely enjoyed parts of the book, I'm not sure if I found the overall effect satisfying or not.  Some chapters were so well done, with the narrative unfolding in quite unexpected ways and surprises, (that made perfect sense to the story), jumping out at you to tell nice little poignant tales.  Others, seemed kind of by the numbers or pointless.  Some of the stories seemed deliberately confusing at first, (not necessarily a bad thing with the proper payoff), so I wonder if getting other's perspectives will help to reach aha moments and make the issues I found lacking seem better in retrospect.  In any case, I'm on board for a chapter by chapter discussion.

I found this collection to overall be pretty depressing. Megan herself seems to need some sort of psychological help. I didn't know each chapter was supposed to be another year. Although, you can tell that the artist, to his credit, did obviously age Megan. Still, I thought it was a really solid read. (I read this over 2 days last week). A chapter by chapter briefing probably would work well for this. Up to you, boss.

Border Mutt said:

Others, seemed kind of by the numbers or pointless.

I think the ones seeming pointless, to you, are common in slice of life type of books. These are the ones that might be really personal to the writer, but they just don't mean much, or seem to add anything to the regular reader.

In the back essays both creators talk about varying reader responses to the chapters while it was being published as individual issues. Readers sometimes loved or hated an issue, while others had the opposite response. In the first essay Brian Wood describes it as "a series of short stories about people and the places they live in." But he also says "Poor Megan McKeenan. Look for her to pop up in every issue of Local, sometimes as the lead, sometimes just as a background character." So by the time they got underway Megan and the locations were both part of the plan.

It sounds like we should talk about the chapters individually, because we do seem to have responded to them differently. I'll post observations on the first few sometime later tonight.

Chapter 1: "Ten Thousand Thoughts Per Second" Portland, Oregon

We meet young Megan (age 17, according to Brian Wood's essay on this issue) in a bind. She's sitting in her car in the rain while her boyfriend forges a prescription; her job is to go into the pharmacy, be convincing about the prescription, and pay for the drugs. At first it looks like she's doing it, but it turns out that she's rehearsing possible outcomes in her imagination. It's a bit confusing at first, and an early sign that the storytelling may not always be straightforward. In the end she abandons her car and her loser boyfriend (Ryan Kelly's comment: "Favorite part of Local #1: The fact that the boyfriend isn't even worth having a name.")

At this point we have no idea why Megan is on the road (or even whether Portland is her home town), although the back story does get filled in later in the series. I thought it was an intriguing start, and I liked Megan in it. She's clearly young and finding her way, but she's strong enough to make a hard decision the right way.

Chapter 2: "Polaroid Boyfriend" Minneapolis, Minnesota

Pretty long way from Portland, and no indication of why Megan wound up here. This is an odd interlude. Megan has struck up a kind of relationship with a young male stalker who breaks into her apartment and leaves Polaroid photos of himself; she responds by leaving a Polaroid of herself (the guy really reminds me of Paul Pope, visually, but that's likely just an odd coincidence). A coworker convinces her she's crazy for taking such a risk with a stranger, so she changes her locks and breaks off contact. In the end she invites the guy in and introduces herself.

So what's the point? She's lonely, and is trying to learn to trust, I guess. It doesn't look much healthier than the relationship she ran away from in Portland, on the face of it, and it's a bit of a non sequitur after the first chapter.

Chapter 3: "Theories And Defenses" Richmond, Virginia

Other side of the country, just about due east from Minneapolis. This is the first chapter where Megan is a bit player. The focus is on the members of a famous Richmond band named Theories And Defenses. They have just broken up, and have all returned home after living in Europe for several years. As a musician who has played in bands, I really enjoyed this story, and didn't mind Megan's small role in it. I've never been as successful as this band, but the band's personality dynamics ring absolutely true.

Chapter 1: While good, pretty the entire time I read it, I just kept thinking of the movie Run, Lola, Run.

Chapter 2: I agree with Megan's roommate, she was crazy to engage that dude. The first inkling to me that she needed some sort help. That being said there was still something sweet about it, and their exchanging photoz. (Maybe that makes me deranged).

Chapter 3: This was almost a "blink and you miss her" episode in which Megan barely appears. Probably one of my favorite chapters as we get into the history of the band, Theories and Defenses. Covering one of the great music debates, a band changing their sound as they grow older and their fans' reaction to it. A real good one.

Chapter 1: I liked how, as the issue went on, Megan became more and more confrontational with her boyfriend.  It wasn't just that she was doing different things, her patience was also ebbing.  This helped to give a sense of progression.  In a way, she's growing as the issue moves along, even if it's all in her mind.  She starts off feeling trapped by her situation, including being the one concerned about the car, but by the end, she feels ready to move on, being the one to dismiss the car as a reason to stay.  So, for this chapter, Megan's growth comes in the form of her becoming less attached and willing to leave.

I'm not sure how well this chapter did at portraying Portland.  It did have the trees and the rain and the references with the Nob Hill Pharmacy and Union Station.  It also had a bit of a '90's movie, drug / slacker vibe, which, according to Hollywood, Portland was a bit of a center for in the day.  Was this a good representation of Portland?

The essays talk about the care that was taken with visual references for the locations, but I generally have to take their word for it. I'm not really familiar with any of these places. I used to have family near Chicago; I've visited Toronto twice; been to NYC once, but not to Brooklyn. And I've never lived in any of them. I really wish Ann Arbor, MI had made the cut. That would have given me one location I knew really well. That would have to make it a much more intimate reading experience.

Chapter 2: When we first saw him, I thought Megan's boyfriend gave off a creepy stalker vibe.  Then, everything was turned on its head as we found out she expected him to be there.  Next, she's talking to her co-worker and we find out she met him due to his breaking and entering / stalker thing.  At this point, he's done exactly the same thing, but he doesn't come off anywhere near as creepy because we know Megan is comfortable with him.  Strange story, but definitely intriguing.

So what's the point? She's lonely, and is trying to learn to trust, I guess. It doesn't look much healthier than the relationship she ran away from in Portland, on the face of it, and it's a bit of a non sequitur after the first chapter.

I got the impression that she initially gave him the benefit of the doubt because she could emphasize with being down on your luck.  The part where she's staring out the window at him stuck in the snow kind of drove this home.  Yet, she's not quite ready to trust, (with her possessions and apartment which she's not that attached to after her "breakthrough" last issue, yes, but not even to the point of actually meeting him face to face).  Then, her subconscious throws a nightmare at her and gets her to take a step back and change the locks.  Ultimately though, she takes a tentative step toward trusting again as she lets him crawl through her window.  So yeah, it's definitely about learning to trust again, and it's not the healthiest of situations, but the power dynamics are different and it does seem to me like a step forward instead of to the side.

To me, this chapter didn't portray Minneapolis very well at all.  We see a couple of storefronts and we learn it snows there. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations, but I was hoping to get a bit of a feel for each city... definitely didn't happen this issue.  In fact, I'd say the couple of lines on the postcard to her cousin later on, give more of an impression of the city than this story did.  The creators have to focus on the story they want to tell, but it would have been nice if they were able to fit a little more in.

** Note ** Megan had the key around her neck from the very first story.  (I never noticed it until she changed the locks and so I just assumed it was something she picked up from this story and continued to do as she traveled more.)  While it does have significance that was obviously planned from the beginning, I kind of miss the idea, (from my own head), that she was learning concrete lessons, (as opposed to fuzzy lessons), even when much of her life was messed up.  Oh well...

Chapter 4: "Two Brothers" Missoula, Montana

Megan's path takes her back West. This was a violent, shocking episode, as Megan finds herself in the middle of a bitter disagreement between two brothers. She is almost as much of a bit player as she was in the previous issue, but the emotional scars from it will be obvious in the next chapter.

This is another example of the sometimes overwrought emotionalism in the series (I would say the same of the first chapter). It's very powerfully done: the characters and their conflict seem real, even though we've just met them. But it's still an unlikely event (thankfully), and on the second reading I found myself feeling like it was just there to put Megan through another emotional wringer. A bit melodramatic for me.

Chapter 5: "The Last Lonely Days at the Oxford Theatre" Halifax, Nova Scotia

Way North and East of the previous chapter. Since there's never any explanation of why Megan is living in the chapter's city, I suppose the lack of obvious pattern just shows how wayward she is. After the events of the previous chapter, Megan is having trouble even occupying her own skin. She's working in a movie theater, and she literally puts on a different name tag every day. She's desperately lonely, but she keeps burning through identities as she tries to avoid any consequences to her actions. When someone she met confronts her about it, she leaves town. This time we see her farewell note.

I try to cut Megan some slack, but this is clearly emotionally disturbed behavior. She really needs post-traumatic stress disorder counseling at this point.

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