Thursday Comics Hangover: Journey into retail

In the fall of 1980, in the small town of Holland, Michigan, a new department store is just about to open. It's called Everything, and it seemingly stocks...well, everything: groceries, "fancy pants," insect poison, fishing rods. The parking lot is full on opening day, and local government officials are around to suck up to the new job creators who just moved to town. Meanwhile, small business owners brace for impact and young people consider selling out to the new corporate behemoth in town for $4.50 an hour.

That's the premise of the first issue of Everything, a comic out this month from writer Christopher Cantwell, artist and colorist I.N.J. Culbard, and letterer Steve Wands. It's a beautiful book — Culbard draws striking, clear compositions and uses the primary colors and zip-a-tone textures of 1980s comics.

It's a first issue, so I have to give Cantwell and Culbard some leeway about the mysteries in the book. (Isn't 1980 a little early for a store like this? Wouldn't the 90s have been a better setting for the wholesale decimation of small-town America at the hands of a giant retailer?)

The first issue of Everything is crawling with menace. The vibe of Everything, particularly as represented by the aloof store manager Shirley, is just not quite right — everything to do with the store feels like an approximation of humanity that doesn't quite nail the impression. (I hope Cantwell and Culbard continue to incorporate Everything's advertisements into the story the way they do on the first and last pages of this issue — even good retail ads almost always have a sinister air to them, so this seems like fertile ground for further exploration.)

Everything does a great job of establishing the characters and stakes with economy and compassion: the book doesn't take too long to get into the store opening, but Cantwell's script establishes the status quo in Holland enough to make it feel like a town that's been there forever. Imagine the first two hundred pages of a great 1980s-era Stephen King novel smashed into twenty or so pages of comics and you have a good sense of what you'll find here.