Simon and Jenkins’ ‘Neverboy’ Finds Its Oddball Groove When The Drugs Run Out
The imaginary friend isn't a super-prevalent trope in comics, but it's been deconstructed enough in some very good comics that it's hard to believe that something shockingly new can be done with it. Morrison, Gaiman, and Moore are all fans of the device; Jamie McKelvie's Suburban Glamour, God's appearances in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends, and more.
Despite the territory that's already been covered, Shaun Simon and Tyler Jenkins have hit a hidden deposit in Neverboy, in which an unyoked imaginary friend takes drugs to stay in the real world. It's a clever idea, and it's definitely never been done before, but where Neverboy really strikes gold is when the drugs run out.
The titular character in Neverboy is an imaginary friend clinging on to existence long after his creator has moved on. It's not quite clear how drugs tether him to this plane (when you're talking about an imaginary friend, you probably don't need to know if the chemistry makes sense), but they do, and when the supply runs low, law enforcement from the imaginary realm come to take Neverboy back to the world of the unreal, threatening to rip him away from his wife and son.
Neverboy follows through on the novelty of the hook with smart twists, compelling stakes, and an undeniably tragic and likeable protagonist. He's a mercurial, complicated character who shifts in your perception throughout the story, both in his relationships wife his family and the way Jenkins draws him. He seems to modulate between straight and jonesing, real and unreal.
When Neverboy first appears, he looks like Charlie Sheen in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, or even Charlie Sheen in real life, scrounging for pills in an emergency room. With his wife Rachel, and especially his son Ben, he's the perfect family man, and an especially doting and attentive father. I wish there had been more scenes with the family, actually, because that dynamic is what gives Neverboy such strange pathos when it all comes crashing down.
Then again, more might have been too much. Shaun Simon takes a clever concept and delves into emotionally charged areas like death and denial from a completely new angle. The minimalist cartooning of Tyler Jenkins imbues the world with a loopy magical realism, and the subtly oddball colors of Kelly Fitzpatrick provide the final smear of lipstick on Neverboy's screwy smile. Smart and weird, hopeful and sad, I can hardly imagine (nailed it!) a better beginning.