Hopeless, Maine by Tom Brown & Nimue Brown, a guest review by Nils Nisse Visser.
Like to indulge in the phantasmal during the spectral month of October? Hopeless, Maine is what you’re looking for. Mind you, it’s sublimely moody in other months as well.
The series is drawn by Tom Brown, written by Nimue Brown, and published by Sloth Comics. It currently consists of Hopeless, Maine 1: The Gathering, and Hopelesss, Maine 2: Sinners.
The Gathering incorporates two previously separately published volumes, Personal Demons and Inheritance. The graphic novels are available at most major online retailers.
The plot of both The Gathering and Sinners is chronological. Time may have elapsed between volumes or chapters. This gives the reader the sense of a dreamlike dipping in and out of the main story line.
The setting is an island called Hopeless, one of the many thousands of islands off the coast of Maine. The island tends to be reached accidentally, usually by means of unintended shipwreck. Getting off the island isn’t impossible, but no mean feat if achieved. There is a Gothic, Victorian feel to the place, but the artist and author are careful never to specify a specific date. This gives Hopeless a timeless feel that works wonderfully well on the imagination. It could be yesterday, it could be today, it could be tomorrow, but it most certainly is Hopeless.
Hopeless is by no means a new world, a long (disturbing) past is hinted at. The reader certainly gets the feel that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. I believe that the awareness that there is far more, strengthens willingness to trust a creator and suspend disbelief.
Apart from humans, Hopeless is inhabited by a wide range of creatures. Sometimes these can be funny or even endearing critters, like Spoon-walkers, Dust Cats, and skeletal dogs. At other times they are far more morbidly inclined, like the undead, vampires and demons…oh the demons. A great many are unhindered by gravity as we understand it. Those swimming through the air, or floating by on a draught, add a whole new dimension to the sense of space.
What is Hopeless, Maine About?
The main story line follows the coming of age of Salamandra, who may or may not be an orphan. Her parents are…best not mentioned in a review to avoid spoilers. We first encounter Salamandra as a child in The Gathering, and then as a young adult in Sinners. Salamandra is a stubborn and headstrong protagonist. She is imbued with tremendous powers which she doesn’t fully understand. She is also intensely curious, driven by the desire to understand the world she lives in as well as her part in it.
Salamandra starts as an outsider, someone without any friends. This may be partially caused by her powers. These are formidable and sometimes manifest themselves as an indelible part of Salamandra’s moods. There are instances where sympathetic characters are wary of Salamandra. They don’t quite know who or what Salamandra is, but they recognize her tempestuous nature. They have learned the hard way that strange, even demonic influences, can lurk around every corner of Hopeless.
There is another, far more relatable, human aspect. Salamandra doesn’t really believe that anybody could like her, because she doesn’t particularly like herself.
Salamandra’s journey includes a lot of learning. She finds out more about her family background. She learns more about her powers, and controlling them. Salamandra also progresses on a much more recognizable human level, when she begins to develop genuine friendships.
A Fresh Take
The world is literally awash with YA stories. A chosen one with great powers, as well as the theme of an adolescent wanting to understand the world around them and their place in it, is a much used cliché.
However, the cliché remains a powerful one. After all, every one of us has been biologically programmed to want to understand the world and our place in it at some point or other. This at different levels since the moment we were born. I can’t speak for you, but I’m nearing fifty and find that it continues relentlessly.
As such, there is archetypal recognition for the creators to rely on, which makes Hopeless, Maine suitable for a wide range of ages.
Moreover, the Browns manage to infuse their version of this common theme with unique freshness. It is such an original approach that the reader forgets this is essentially a story that we have been telling each other since the invention of fire. That temporary blackout of our conscious memory is accompanied by our sub-conscious hollering: “Hey, I know this place. I’ve been here before.”
Add to this the dreamlike quality of story and artwork, and there is more recognition, in the form of our own dreamtime. This is emphasized by the discovery that things on Hopeless, Maine seem to happen for no reason at all. The reader quickly learns not to seek for logical explanations, but simply go with the flow. That in itself forms a compelling and enchanting read. However, the reader can find more rewards by paying close attention to the illustrations, as these often have as much to say about the story as the text.
More than just depicting the information revealed to you by the writer, the images take an active part in the storytelling. They will reveal things left untold by the text, hints on how certain things in Hopeless work…or don’t work. This includes suggestions as to a higher power of sorts. This presence subtly manipulates the course of events at times for reasons unknown to us…or the human denizens of Hopeless.
In other words, the story as a whole conceals layers within layers. It hints at further layers beyond our immediate grasp, but tantalizing glimpses are awarded to those who keep their eyes wide open.
All of this makes Hopeless, Maine a fascinating and intriguing set of tales, which also contain the promise of much more to come.
All of the above is hard to achieve as a singular creator. Graphic novels add an extra dimension of challenge. The skill required to produce a fresh perspective on an archetypal story isn’t enough. It also requires an extraordinary understanding between artist and writer to produce a work in which the dual input fuses seamlessly. The Browns have managed to achieve this in Hopeless, Maine, and that alone is commendable.
WISH YOU WERE HERE
The extent to which Hopeless can get its hooks into you and haunt your mind long after reading, can be gauged on the Hopeless Vendetta website (www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com). This virtual watering hole for Hopeless addicts features many creative contributions. These by people who felt so inspired by the Browns’ combined efforts, that they felt the need to write, compose, photograph, illustrate or otherwise contribute something of their own to Hopeless (warning: There may be tentacles).
I cannot, in all honesty, think of a better review of somebody’s work than new art as an expression of inspiration. If you’re keen on finding out more about this series, I very much recommend browsing around Vendetta for a while.
In closing, if you were to ask me for a short and concise description of Hopeless, Maine, I would tell you this:
Hopeless, Maine will bewitch and beguile you. It will lead you down paths of déjà vu and startle you with new discoveries at the same time, like a dream within a dream. For comparison: During reading there were times that I fancied myself to be floating through a long-lost creation by Edgar Allan Poe. This is subjective of course, but I couldn’t possibly award Hopeless, Maine higher praise than that.
The best news? A third book is underway. Progress can be followed on:
Nils Nisse Visser writes contemporary fantasy, contemporary and historical fiction, historical fantasy and Steampunk stories. He has published seven novels and novellas, and contributed stories to four anthologies, including two award-winning WriterPunk Press anthologies, as well as non-fictional magazine work. His first Steampunk book, Amster Damned, has been positively received by critics, who have encouraged him to continue exploring the genre. http://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk