Welcome to The Pull List, a weekly column where we check out a first issue of a new series and tell you whether or not to follow the comic based only on that. Today we’re reading Neverboy, which follows an imaginary friend clinging to the real world via drug use and fantasy.
Around the same era as Sandman, there were a bunch of series that adopted the same fascination with the imaginary and its relationship to reality. Some of them were legitimate explorations on the theme, others were little more than pixie dust and whimsy by the industrial crate-load. Neverboy, thankfully, belongs in the former.
And the reason is that it balances its surreal premise with both sober storytelling and a connection to relatable feelings of depression and self-worth. Consequently, the reader can settle gently into the warm, bubbly waters of the book’s fantasy. It opens with Neverboy bumming around the local hospital in an emotional rut, questioning both his own worth and that of the distant world around him. Which is understandable, because Neverboy isn’t ‘real,’ by the series’ still-open-ended definition of the word.
Through “medication and unlawful use of fantasy,” (unlawful by the ordinances that govern imaginary folk like Neverboy), he’s managed to cling to our world when he shouldn’t be, and it seems he’s doing so in order to imagine relationships to give himself that sense of purpose and connection that he’s been lacking. And damn is that sad.
With that kind of imaginary protagonist, Neverboy #1 hits so many aspects of emotional dysfunction right on the head, like the arbitrariness of experiences that should be unique and meaningful. In the same way, there’s undertones of commentary on the ‘infinite cultural horizon’ plaguing us, the feeling that there are so many videos, songs, posts, that it doesn’t matter what you imbibe or where you start. Like Neverboy fabricating his family from a billboard ad, you can literally have so much of what you want with a simple Google search. And damn is that also kind of sad.
And speaking of Sandman, Neverboy‘s visual duo of Tyler Jenkins and Kelly Fitzpatrick bring back that ‘early days of Vertigo’ scratchboard style, but not in a needless throwback sort of way. The scratchiness of the linework adds to the unreality of everything, and before you write it off as an eyesore, the more lucid moments of the book use these warm, unearthly hues and watercolored backgrounds. In the scene I’m referencing, Neverboy’s reminiscing about a little boy he used to Imaginary Friend for, and a solar system they built in the branches of his backyard tree. It’s a lovely scene, but again, devastatingly sad as a memory in the middle of bad times.
Hence, my general consensus on Neverboy #1 is that it hits me in the feels in a perfect way. It isn’t heavy-handed at all with its whimsicality–in fact, the more whimsical it gets, the sadder it really is by virtue of Neverboy’s predicament. The pacing is quiet, low-key, and that makes the magical bits sparkle all the brighter, really. In other words, it’s a great execution of a style and theme that so many other series have failed with, by being fey without feeling.