Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: The Hypo - The Melancholic Young Lincoln, by Noah Van Sciver

We're so used to seeing Lincoln portrayed as a magisterial president, that we (or at least I) have trouble thinking about him as a person in development, as a youth struggling, as all youth must, to discover who he is. In The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln, Noah Van Sciver gives us a fine portrait of that Lincoln-in-process by focusing on his private, internal struggles. "The Hypo" (Lincoln's term for his sometimes crippling depression) debilitates him, causing doubt and fear to sometimes rule his life. It's a portrait that any sufferer of depression will recognize.

Van Sciver's drawing is assured and highly detailed (backgrounds and environments are often rendered quite specifically, really grounding the story in its time and place), while remaining a bit "cartoony" - his is an engaging, highly readable style. My one complaint, visually, is that early on, Lincoln and his randy roommate, Joshua Speed, look so much alike that sometimes in conversation I became confused as to who was who.

Narratively, you can't help but empathize with young Lincoln in his struggles - his love life is a shambles, for example, although the book's happy ending reveals that he eventually (if perhaps only temporarily) overcame some of "The Hypo."

I understand the desire to focus on the details of Lincoln's personal life over those of his his professional career, but unfortunately this strategy at times makes for some confusing moments. References that other characters make in passing to Lincoln's growing political influence seem to come out of nowhere. I mean, of course we all know that Abraham Lincoln had a political career, but the Lincoln of The Hypo doesn't quite seem capable of sustaining one. We get a few small glimpses, but they're nowhere nearly as finely developed as are the more intimate moments in the young man's life. I would have appreciated a bit of a broader focus on Lincoln's life and work over the course of The Hypo - I can only imagine that in Van Sciver's hands, Lincoln's professional struggles would become as fascinating as his personal ones surely are here.

The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln
by Noah Van Sciver
Fantagraphics, 2012
ISBN-10: 1606996193
ISBN-13: 978-1606996195
192 pages, $24.99