Ross Campbell’s ‘Wet Moon’ Is Pure Comics [Review + 25-Page Preview]
On sale now from Oni Press is Wet Moon 6, the latest of Ross Campbell's excellent graphic novel series about variously gothic and geeky and gay girls (and some boys) attending art college in the American south. Light on melodrama but heavy on emotion, humor, and character development (and some seemingly supernatural intrigue for good measure), Wet Moon is a soap opera but in the best possible sense of that term. Campbell makes each individual of his expansive and diverse cast truly that – an individual -- and the haunting southern setting one of the most visually immersive in comics.
Like many of you, cartoonist Sarah Horrocks was only familiar with Ross Campbell's work on such mainstream titles as Glory and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but was taken aback by Wet Moon 6's great writing, body-conscious artwork, and culturally relevant themes like pain, sexuality and friendship. Read her review and 25 pages of Wet Moon 6after the cut.
So I'll just come out and admit it: the first thing by Ross Campbell I read was Glory. I know, I know. I'm a loser. I read that and then his Ninja Turtles stuff and just sort of kept up with whatever dope art he posted online. And I had heard of Wet Moon. In fact, the first time I ever read Campbell's name anywhere he was paraphrased as "the Wet Moon guy." I didn't have a good excuse for not reading these books, not beyond lazy worthlessness.
Wet Moon 6 came out this week and I thought it was a good opportunity to take the plunge. Now, a perhaps smarter bunny would have started at Volume 1, but bleaugh. That is the coward's way. If I can pick up Spider-Man #1,000,000,016 and figure out the lay of the land, I'm reasonably comfortable I can pick up book six of a series and not feel in over my head.
I am glad I did, because wow. I loved Campbell as an artist before reading this, but now I'm in awe of him as a writer -- and also super thankful someone like him exists. My eyes were full of tears for the bulk of this book. The world is so fully realized that you can just jump in and everything makes sense. It's like in the real world: you can meet people and you don't know their whole backstory, but you become interested in them for tiny weird moments and just gradually come to know them, and then maybe you go in and fill in the backstory. That's how realized these characters are. There isn't a fictional person in this book that didn't make me feel like I knew them in some way almost immediately. I didn't know how they got to be where they were, but I wanted to know because I appreciated how they were now.
It probably goes without saying at this point, but Wet Moon is easily the most body-positive comic book I've ever read. The book is a huge condemnation of the bulk of comic history, which has mostly handed us one or two kinds of body types for women, and said, "Well, sorry, we have to sell these books, so we have to have beautiful people on here." Every woman in this book is beautiful, and none of them conform to what we've been sold for decades. It's like if you live in the city your whole life and then go out into the country and you're like, "Oh, that's what the stars are!"
What's most striking to me about Wet Moon and what makes it such an immediately compelling read, even if you don't know the universe, is how well these characters communicate pain and survival. It's usually just in the body language, or a facial expression at a particular moment, but the book depicts a constant tension within those who feel the need to shoulder the pain that is inside of them even as they do everything they can possibly do to help their friends around them. The character Audrey is a horrific cyclone of bad s*** happening in her life all at once, but she is still trying to help people, even those who let her down. But even then, she doesn't have the expectation that others are there to help her, and yet they consistently are. She is offered help and support from several friends in a few different sequences, and I think it sends this really powerful message that no matter how alone you feel, or how dark times seem, there are people out there who want to help you.
There's three pages in here that don't really have to deal with the central plot of the book and kind of happen almost off-screen from the rest of the stories and characters of Wet Moon, where the Audrey character has to come out to her parents because it's either that or allowing someone else to out her. For anyone who has ever had to have this conversation, Campbell captures it perfectly. You only see the experience from Audrey's side: she's on the phone, so you just have her reaction to what she's hearing, and it's depicted almost entirely as body language. Just with that, Campbell conveys flawlessly that hope that your parents will still love you, the anxiety that makes you think they probably won't, and then the breath-stealing, crushing fire of them rejecting you. It is so powerful; the artwork zooms in on just her face for two panels on a black page and it is absolutely wrecking. It is so human and amazing, I wish that I could force feed the scene to everyone out there that is actively working against gay rights.
The power of Wet Moon just as a work of comics is the profound human marriage between story and gesture -- the singleness of the job that Campbell does on this. I do not think a book like this could be produced with the writer and artist being separated. Wet Moon is a book that is both written and drawn from the gut. I don't even really think it's correct to write it that way -- this is a book where writing and art are not separate functions. This is a book of pure comic storytelling.
I am excited to read the other five volumes now. I enjoy all of the work-for-hire Campbell is doing right now, but damn, maybe he should be doing writing-for-hire too.
Wet Moon 6 is on sale now at finer comics shops and bookstores, and available digitally for about six bucks on comiXology -- and it's more than 150 pages. Do you know how insane that is? For a book that was this enjoyable? I don't usually write reviews like this for random books every week, but I was very affected by it. And thus and thus.