Life is about moments. Every interaction, a smile on the bus, an extra second holding an open door, ripples outward, altering a given course in seemingly innocuous yet potentially life altering ways. These moments often go unnoticed, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it connection lost forever to the ether of iPhone chimes and Twitter updates, yet they’re all around us. In Pawn Shop, the new release from creators Joey Esposito and Sean Von Gorman, these moments are given voice, proving that any interaction, no matter how large or minute, can change a life and give it purpose.
Pawn Shop is the story of four disparate souls and the roller coaster that is their lives, all set against the bustling backdrop of present day New York. Told in four separate, character focused chapters that at first glance seem unconnected, Pawn Shop focuses on those fleeting moments when two (or in this case, four) paths intersect. The players include Harold, a widower clinging to the last remaining memories of his dearly departed wife; Arthur, a nurse who falls for Samantha, the sister of his present charge; and Jen, a lost soul looking to find herself amidst a city that’s as much a cage as it is a home.
Writer Esposito tears down the popular convention of today’s comics (bigger is better!) by offering a remarkably stripped down, honest portrayal of everyday life. His characters are imbued with the many foibles that we struggle with each day; uncertainty, selfishness, remorse; yet are also enriched by feelings of hope, compassion, and love. Esposito runs his characters through the emotional gamut, but never in a way that feels hackneyed or cliched. Each plot advancement or revelation feels earned and real, as he allows his characters to grow, falling only so they may pick themselves back up. Too often in books involving multiple lead characters, particularly those that bounce back and forth between said characters from chapter to chapter, writers try to force the moment, opting for heavy handed gut punches over genuine story progression. Esposito does the latter, and while there certainly are gut punches (oww) they’re laid out in a way that is respectful to the character’s situation.
He also uses the book’s central hub (and title inspiration) to great effect, the titular Pawn Shop ever present but never detracting from the book’s true focus. Each character visits the shop at some point for various reasons, an example of how even the tiniest ripples can cause widespread ramifications. As the chapters tick by and little instances become full on plot progression, pieces that seemed trivial and unimportant suddenly trigger feelings of intense and genuine emotion. By book’s end you’ll be ready to read it again, intent on picking up on the little seeds sprinkled throughout. Esposito does a truly magnificent job of keeping his story together despite the many moving parts, a testament to his ability to see the book as a whole.
While Esposito provides the voice, it’s artist Sean Von Gorman who gives it life, his expressive art injecting a humanity that allows readers to fully connect with the characters and their stories. At first his simplistic style left me irked, particularly his minimalist backgrounds, yet as I read on I appreciated the decision, his muted backdrops allowing the characters to continually take center stage. His character work is fantastic, particularly his facial cues and body language, each character an open book with or without the accompanying words.
As characters move and grow so does the art, Von Gorman easily adapting to the scenes at hand. The lighter moments are given warmth and levity, whereas the darker, more impactful moments are given genuine weight, resulting in some profoundly beautiful and affecting panels. The vibrant color wash (provided by Von Gorman and cover artist Jonathan Moore) completes the effect, turning what could have been a cartoony dive into the dramatic, into an immersive, well rounded experience.
Pawn Shop is the kind of book you can’t put down, a brisk read that seems to end far too soon. So often the heart of a book is lost to snappy dialogue and nonsensical happenings, yet the characters of Pawn Shop proudly display theirs for the world to see. Esposito and Von Gorman have delivered a truly affecting debut, one that lingers long after the final page is turned. It’s about moving forward, about dealing with the past without being beholden to it, about connecting with those in the present, the here, the now. Life is about moments, and one reading Pawn Shop is a moment well spent.
Pawn Shop available March 2014.