Nowhere #1 heralds the death of protagonist Abby in a dream and it seems that by issue’s end all that was dreamed has come to pass.
CRYPTIC BY DESIGN
Writer-artist JSB has gone out of his way to play heavily on classic Japanese death imagery in the pages of Nowhere #1. From the get-go this issue draws deep from the cryptic well; Abby’s dream world is captioned “somewhere” in a move that is fanciful, to be certain, but doesn’t necessarily give the readers any information that they may need stepping right into a new book.
As for Nowhere #1’s protagonist, Abby is a veritable personification of death even at fourteen years old. She is sullen, pale, dark featured and speaks in the limited number of words needed to get her point across. For the most part she spends the issue asleep; initially Abby converses with her absentee father before his illusion dissolves into a creature that resembles the No-Face anima from Spirited Away (an image that is pervasive throughout Japanese art into contemporary manga).
This death figure – who goes nameless for the entirety of Nowhere #1 – is sorrowfully lacking in subtlety under the pen of JSB. Rather than haunt Abby in a thoughtful or imaginative way, he flat out threatens the teenaged girl and in doing so reveals an event that is certain to happen somewhere along in the narrative.
This coupled with the tropes of an absentee parent (in particular a father), and recurring nightmares make the overall beats of Nowhere #1 not only predictable, but ultimately unsatisfying. The most compelling thing about Abby is not the fact that she is a maladjusted fourteen-year-old girl who has abstractly foreseen her own demise, but rather a tiny scar that she wears on the side of her mouth. It is one of those visual details that is so striking and the story behind how she came by it teased as something so interesting that by having JSB not address it at all in the entire issue feels like teasing. It was likely meant to be compelling – and the origin of the scar is to a certain degree – if unsatisfying.
Back in the here and now – captioned by writer JSB as “home”– it is implied that Abby’s mother is neglectful of her, further pressing upon us the idea that she is isolated, alone. The most interesting storytelling device that JSB writes into Nowhere #1 takes place in Abby’s waking life: when she wakes up from the nightmarish first half she immediately begins an audio journal to send to her best friend – also fourteen – who is evidently gathering empirical data for a school project. There is perhaps a better choice than Abby’s best friend as her confidante in these matters, but this is what JSB gives us.
I’m not going to spoil the end of the issue here, though little investigative work and imagination will lead you to figure out how Nowhere #1 spends its final panels. The closing scene should evoke an emotional response and probably would if readers knew anything about Abby beyond the broad strokes of a sulky teenager with absent parents and it makes the reappearance of an old spirit friend feel more like taunting than anything else.
Overall, Nowhere #1 is a narrative we’ve seen before and not the best telling of it we’ve ever read.
THE DARK IS OKAY
Like his writing, JSB’s art is okay. It’s minimalist to its detriment, the characters could use a little more unique definition in their design to make Nowhere #1 a truly stunning issue. The death spirit strongly resembles the aforementioned character in Spirited Away and many other figures from Japanese lore. As for Abby, our leading lady, she is coloured such an ashy shad of grey that she appears to be a corpse from her first appearance in Nowhere #1 … which really doesn’t give her anywhere to go, from a design standpoint, given the macabre nature of JSB’s narrative.
Nowhere #1 has little by way of backgrounds, most of the panels have nothing more than colourful blurs in the background. Perhaps they are supposed to be indicative of Abby’s swirling mental state or the ever changing dream landscape, but they come across as lazy and do nothing to help in world building.
JSB’s art in Nowhere #1 gets the job done because it provides a visual for the story being told, though it offers little more by way of narrative aid.
THE BOTTOM LINE: SKIP IT
Nowhere #1 is fine. The story and art are fine and are unlikely to blow readers away. There are other stories on Comixology that would be a better use of your time.