If there is one tragic convention of the typical urban drama it is that of interlocking characters unaware of their proximity and the impact they have on each other’s lives. Magnolia, Short Cuts, Crash, all epic stories that sprawl from a point of contact. Niklas Asker’s Second Thoughts is almost one of those stories, that fact that it shies away from the obvious at the most delicate of moments elevates it above melodrama with just enough frustration and ennui to ring true.
Set in London, the story follows two characters, each struggling with their own sense of identity. Jessica, a determined, self-absorbed writer, is determined to get her novel finished, even if it means destroying her relationship. Meanwhile photographer John is suffering from a serious case of city sickness, made more acute by the absence of his impossibly gifted and beautiful girlfriend. By chance they share a moment in Stansted Airport going in opposite directions: he’s leaving London for New York for love; she’s waiting on ‘a friend’ coming in the opposite direction for the same reason. As it turns out they share more than frustration and both return home empty-handed and alone. Confronted with the inevitability of a life of claustrophobia in London do Jessica and John, never to meet again, stick with their respective lives of quiet desperation or twist and move on to somewhere (anywhere) better. As fate would have it the decisions they make occur in much closer proximity than they know.
Asker’s story is deliberately paced, the organisation of panels on each page lending an almost procudeural rhytmn to the early exchanges between characters. The use of a double page spread with mirrored layouts for Jessica and John’s meeting, establishing both as pivotal characters without implying the dominance of either in the overall narrative is a particularly striking example. Later, repeating panels are employed to illustrate the characters’ shifting power relations (to explain any further is to head into spoiler territory) demonstrating Asker’s feel for the emotional without overplaying his hand. London itself is depicted as a city reproduced not much by the artist as interpreted in the minds of his characters. Barring some establishing shots or the city at night, the Capital is more talked about than given enough page space to become imposing or inspiring. As for the characters themselves, Asker’s crisp designs are simple and clean enough to create enough empathy for the reader to appreciate, if not quite fall in love with. Hardly the most sympathetic of protagonists, Jessica and John are deeply unhappy by their repsective situations and act as such. John is a shoegazer who can’t believe his luck when he gets a shot at the kind of beauty he has only viewed from behind his lens but feels emasculated by his inability to break out of his comfort zone. In contrast Jessica sees her other half as a convenient crutch, her work making her physically and emotionally unavailable. Neither would be much fun at parties.
Asker’s conclusion is a mixed bag that culminates in a beautiful full page splash that, while visually and emotionally perfect, creates just enough doubt to question the relatively clean ending. Still, Second Thoughts is a graceful study of love in a time of uncertainty, when economic lines are being redrawn and everything is coming under question. You can’t not read this in one sitting.
€tbc; b/w, 80 pages, US, W/A Niklas Asker, Top Shelf Comics www.topshelfcomix.com