Sacred Heart

By Liz Suburbia (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-841-0

What would have happened when you were a teenager and your parents went away for the weekend?

What if they didn’t come back for four years? And what if the same thing happened to every household in your little town at the same time?

Visually, elements of Charles Burns and Johnny Ryan crackle beside graphic echoes of the Hernandez Brothers in a stunning graphic novel debut which tackles that conundrum with perspicacity, near-feral insight, righteous anger and a great deal of sentiment-free warmth in Sacred Heart.

As much mystery thriller as “Having Come of Age” tale, the mesmerising story opens in little everytown Alexandria which at first glance seems to have gotten a little rowdy of late, but for all the late-night drinking, hot-rodding, incessant partying, lewd behaviour and hijinks is carrying on as best it can.

The older teens are looking after the little kids, school is still attended, the local store still carries provisions and life goes on pretty much as before, even though there hasn’t been a responsible adult in situ for years…

Ben Schiller cares for her rapidly maturing – and consequently increasingly difficult – little sister Empathy; her life-long nerdy punk friend Otto still works part-time at the video store – when he’s not stealing girls’ panties – and he and she still watch weird movies most evenings, trading gossip and stories about who they’re currently seeing…

Elsewhere in their unique community, local garage-band The Crotchmen are the only good thing to see of an evening and Erica’s baby still hasn’t come.

Jocks still act like meatheads and the pretty girls still chase them whilst standoffish Ben remains involved but apart. She isn’t ignored or reviled these days as she’s devised a method of tattooing which makes her a vital component of the new society…

Recently though, some of the little kids have been acting a little weird: descending into mysticism and fortune telling whilst default storekeeper Jack Brown is claiming that soon he won’t be able to get any more booze or gas for the town’s remaining functional cars, but of course the real downer is how many of the older teens have been found murdered in the last few weeks…

The kids all seem to accept the growing “Dead Kids Club” as a part of life in their little town, but as the summer of excess rolls on towards Fall, things start to change. Firstly Ben and Otto endanger the perfect friendship by bringing sex into the equation, after which an actual adult is seen in town but escapes and Crotchmen’s lead singer joins the casualty list and is replaced with a girl.

Hulking drummer Hugo starts planning how to take his little charges and break out to freedom as the kindergarten seers all predict the end of everything is coming, but worst of all, as colossal storm clouds gather, when Ben discovers who the serial killer is, she can do nothing about it…

Compiled and cunningly rearranged from her webcomic, Liz Suburbia’s Sacred Heart is a potent, uncompromising yet measuredly (proportionately??) hopeful glimpse at the teenagers who terrify all us old farts: dealing with a dangerous world not by crumbling as we assume they will, but by rising to the challenge and accepting the responsibilities we probably wouldn’t.

Gripping, compelling, rewarding and astoundingly readable, this is book to exult in from an author to watch.
Sacred Heart © 2015, Liz Surburbia. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.