By E. K. Weaver
“In the span of a single day, Amal calls off his arranged marriage, comes out to his conservative parents, promptly gets disowned, goes on a bender… and wakes up the next morning to find TJ, a lanky, dreadlocked vagrant, frying eggs and singing Paul Simon in his kitchen.
TJ claims that the two have made a drunken pact to drive all the way from Berkeley to Providence. As it happens, Amal promised his sister he’d be there for her graduation from Brown University. And TJ, well… TJ has his own reasons. The agreement is simple: Amal does the driving; TJ pays the way – but a 3500 mile journey leaves plenty of time for things to get complicated.”
Okay, that’s the setup, but in nearly 300 pages of webcomic, or the graphic novel that collects the first 15 chapters, Weaver has lots of time to get into the whys and the wherefores.
It all starts off with the second part of that first paragraph… with Amal on a bender:
And then it’s straight into the morning after. Although Amal was so out of it that TJ merely took him home and cooked him breakfast.
Next thing you know the pair are off on a road trip together. With TJ needing to get someplace and Amal needing to get to a wedding. The mood is not great, Amal’s still coming off the adrenaline rush of possibly screwing his life and his family up completely.
Right from the start I loved the way Weaver just gave the strip time to play out a pause for as long as it took. Bear in mind I’m doing this all off the webcomic, so here on the screen, the long, long silence scrolling down really works brilliantly:
See what I mean. I’m no advocate of web over print, but that really does work as one long scroll doesn’t it? Weaver has subsequently sent along a pdf of the print version and I’m pleased to see it does still work on the printed/onscreen page, with the long scrolls merely exchanged for equally impressive page after page of contemplative silence.
The whole strip is one long journey, with Weaver really letting it all open up. I can get bloody bored with webcomics sometimes, and just lose it halfway through never to return. But TJ and Amal just had something really good. The pacing worked a treat. Hell, it was 84 pages in before we got to Amal spilling to TJ what he was doing, why he was there at the start, and the key thing for me was that it wasn’t too long, the flow of the comic just took me along with it, fine, fine pacing, laying it all out there, taking as much time as it really needs. It’s a long roadtrip, and Weaver gets it just right. Again, I’ve no idea how this is playing out in the print version, but here, clicking through chapter after chapter online, it all seemed so perfectly paced.
Along the way, the pair get to know each other better, questions and answers flying between the two, and both of them let their secrets out slowly. There’s a simmering sexuality in here, but it’s played out really slowly, a naturalistic relationship developing between the pair as they drive on and on. It doesn’t even need dialogue. Chapter 14 is completely silent, yet you still get emotion, sadness, flirting, comedy and more besides.
It takes 15 chapters before TJ and Amal finally get it together, and by that time you’re practically there with the pair, Weaver’s done such a good job of putting her readers right inside her character’s heads.
Weaver’s art is a great plus for the comic, and so easy on the eye. Her characters just look right. Damn good job as well, since most of the comic you’re just sharing a car with the pair, and facetime is all you get artwise. But again, just as with the pacing, it flows, so well.
Then there’s the landscapes. Oh dear, we’re back to me and landscapes in comics again. I’m really getting into a thing here, but Weaver really knocks those landscapes out of the park:
All in all, TJ and Amal just had me from a few pages in. And it kept me for a spectacular 271 pages of really, really good comics. Go buy the damn book, go read it online if you have to, but after you have a great time reading it online, do spring for the collection.
Give the artist money, then she’ll be able to eat AND deliver more great comics.
Here’s the first part of page 271; Chapter 26, page 6…. a fittingly interesting and beautiful moment to end on….
Like I said… go read the thing.