Friday, November 3, 2023

Book Review: Hex Americana by Bree D. Wolf

 Dante Willow, aka Speed Demon, the legendary car racer of the fictional Hex Americana Grand Prix, crashed inside Echo Caverns while racing his rival Mason Higs. Twenty years later, when Ken, an aspiring racer, falls into the cavern, he meets the ghost of Dante and decides to help him move on. Dante wants to win the race that he had to leave incomplete, and Ken wants a car and an entry in Hex Americana. But when more details of the old incident get revealed and romance blooms between the two, they have to rethink their goals and priorities.

Hex Americana is an upcoming graphic novel by Bree D. Wolf, a cartoonist and game designer who has been involved in the creation of several board games, video games, comics, and stuff. The novel is a teenage romantic fantasy with the background of car racing and explores several themes like loss, grief, closure, teenage issues, homophobia, corporatization, cultural differences, and then some more. I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher, Letter Better Publishing Services, through Netgalley in exchange for honest feedback.

Hex Americana is a pretty huge project, as evident from the 360 pages it occupies. There are numerous colourful characters, a wide range of themes are depicted, and the plot itself is stocked with many twists and turns along the way. Bree, who has written and illustrated the book, needs to be commended for the consistency in the quality of her work. Her illustrations are not overtly detailed. She focuses more on the closeups of her characters and uses a broad, caricaturish style that is also pleasing to the eye. The race sequences were especially interesting because, beyond detailing the action, you also found the reactions. There is obvious inspiration from manga, though Bree pushes her individual style to the fore.

Another strong point of the book is its world-building efforts. Most of Bree's characters have seemingly other wordly looks, like an extra mouth behind the head that can speak for some or a large single eye for another. You find ghouls, cyclops, and even a chicken-legged car. But even with these seeming deformities, we discover their lives, outlooks, motivations, and aspirations are as real as you and me. The writer makes them go through recognisable situations, and the fantastic elements turn out to be cleverly hidden reality bombs.

While the illustrations and the concepts are pretty compelling, I found it overwhelming when the plot tried to grab as many social issues as it could while it plodded to a twist-charged, absorbing climax. I don't think there is any point in going out of your way to just have your finger in every piece of the pie.

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