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The Junction coverNot all horror revels in blood and carnage; the mind can terrify as well—and can use even bright colors and fond memories to do it. Norm Konyu’s graphic novel The Junction employs specific visual style and color choices to display the effects of childhood trauma on a boy. It follows Detective Sergeant David King as he navigates the trauma surrounding the disappearance and reappearance of Lucas Jones. Lucas was not violently taken, but he has memories of Kirby Junction, a place that no one else recognizes nor can find on any map, and of people who do not live in Medford, the town from which he disappeared. Most disturbing, Lucas has been gone for twelve years and not aged a single day. He remains physically and intellectually eleven years old. David’s case files lead him and the reader through the maze of Lucas’s cloudy memories, as the medium and the storyteller both contribute to a really cool horror story, complete with a mesmerizing reactive environment from a masterful artist.

The colors in the world surrounding David and Lucas consistently establish the tone for their encounter. Their story unfolds across a heavy blue palette, in a style with vertical lines only hinting at noses on faces and mere dots substituting for eyes. The art eschews more traditional comic-book hard lines and strong contrast in favor of a range of shades to indicate the depth of shadow, of which there is an ample amount. Eric Carle’s collage-illustrated picture books, which depict animals in the natural world, come to mind, especially when Lucas disappears on long bike rides into the woods. Though abstract, this artwork and its vocabulary of childhood nostalgia is a deft way to mirror Lucas’s state of limbo: he’s clearly eleven, but legally he is a twenty-three-year-old adult.

The transitions in which these characters find themselves raise questions about the ways they often attach to or even build on each other’s pain. David pities Lucas’s situation, though David cuts an intimidating figure to Lucas. The blue shadows in the police station deepen, threatening to obscure David himself, as he feels depressed by his long career and the impossibility of Lucas’s case. Much of Lucas’s story comes from David’s readings of the boy’s own diary entries, and so the detective and the reader alike are drawn even further into the mysteries Lucas describes. Similarly, each character’s perception of their environment manifests itself in the colors that make up that environment, and that subtle but well-planned perception can warp reality. As for Lucas, blue returns to the colors of his memories only during a painful recurring nightmare, or when describing Medford’s buildings compare to the bareness of the smaller Kirby Junction, itself built on the pain of the inhabitants.

Kirby Junction contains pieces of people caught in the middle of painful moments, something that becomes more apparent to Lucas as he spends more time there. The objects, people, and situations that Lucas encounters do not logically make sense. For example, Lucas finds a man who waits for a train that never comes and another who always has a raining cloud over his house. He attempts to read books and watch cartoons like a normal boy, but he can only see some of them. Others appear completely blank to him, though the other kids he befriends enjoy them. Eventually, Lucas learns from his father that he can only see things that he remembers from before their move to Kirby Junction. For example, he never finishes Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea because he hadn’t finished it when they moved away from Medford. When Lucas realizes that his father moved the two of them to Kirby Junction on purpose, it also occurs to him that his mother, usually drawn in shades of blue or purple, appears to live in a loop. His father then explains that Lucas’s recurring nightmares are memories of a car accident in which his mother died, and that they live in Kirby Junction as a way to live with her again. One masterfully striking panel details Lucas’s nightmare about a giant squid whose eyes remind him of automobile headlights, a fascinating visual that indicates that not only does Lucas remember the traumatic event that brought him to Kirby Junction, but that some part of him senses the danger that his mother wants him to forget.

The loss of his mother, and Lucas’s general greater receptiveness to women, skew the story slightly as Lucas searches for maternal warmth. Early on, Jean Symonds, a child psychiatrist and a woman, joins David’s investigation. When Jean enters a room, the blue world surrounding David warms to orange and brown, a subtle but sharp contrast to the colder shades associated with Lucas’s mother. The distance between Lucas and his mother can be seen when Lucas eats dinner with his parents: he and his father have a washed-out red and brown color schema, while his mother is drawn in purple, and she sits either on the extreme edge of the panel or otherwise in a panel of her own. Adding Jean to the investigation gives Lucas a surrogate mother figure to whose questioning he responds well. He begins to open up and remember more about how he arrived in Kirby Junction and what occurred there. The scenes where Jean interrogates Lucas are expertly composed so that even in a shot over Lucas’s shoulder that captures just his ear, the boy’s desire to stay in the same panel as her is expressed.

It’s here that Lucas fills out the story with further crucial details, not only for David’s investigation but in Kirby Junction as well—where all the suffering individuals also have family tragedy in common. A closer look at all the individuals in Kirby Junction reveals a sort of arrested development. There’s a diabolical undercurrent of normality here that can easily tempt Lucas and his father into staying: Lucas attends schools as normal and rides bikes as normal, making friends easily, highlighted in warm shades of friendly reds and oranges, like in the jacket Lucas wears. Ironically, these friends provide the first clue for David, who tracks down one of the friends that Lucas mentions and traces him to a car accident that killed the boy and his mother. Another friend died en route to vacation in Florida, complete with his mother and father. In death, individuals stop aging in our minds, which the timelessness of Kirby Junction reflects, as it tries to tempt the traumatized Lucas to remain in an apparently idyllic small town with its promise of endless childhood.

But the further that David and Jean investigate into Lucas’s case, the further the adult world seems to threaten Lucas. Paused at eleven years old, Lucas is the perfect age to begin to think for himself but has a natural tendency to cling to safety, so part of his limbo is to examine his world and ask questions. Lucas had once before wandered through the local woods back into Medford. On this occasion he confronted the fact that he did not come to the Junction in death: a missing persons notice for Lucas and his father sits directly in the middle of a notice board, in one of the novel’s most detailed and most arresting images. The minute details of Medford surround it, shaded in blue, but the contrasting brown notice sticks out in the middle. It’s a wonderful shock that relies on the color palette of Lucas’s story combined with the overwhelming detail of a churning world around him, within which Lucas does not fit.

Faced with the horror that an adulthood of pain awaits him, Lucas returned to Kirby Junction, but found his friends and neighbors openly hostile towards him, since Kirby Junction had now become populated by the memories of his most recent trip to Medford. Lucas thus heads back to Medford again, this time, as we have seen, to be found by the police. The time that has passed Lucas by faster than he realized, however, means that all the children his age have aged, and a lot else besides has also changed for Medford in a decade. So Lucas is again presented with an impossible choice: adulthood, or a life in a world with his parents where time has not passed him by.

Lucas is presented here with the task of deciding whether or not he wants to grow up. He is horrifically tempted to return to the Junction. Childhood and immortality are the ultimate trap because in Kirby Junction Lucas can never grow or learn to love again. He remains trapped by the vague promise of shapes he cannot ever recognize and a future he cannot have. However, adulthood would never provide a cure for this dilemma. After Lucas returns to Kirby Junction for good, David and Jean continue in their respective careers until David’s retirement from the police force. David becomes much happier, going for long runs through vibrant orange woods. On one such run, a colleague calls to inform him that Jean and her daughter have died in a car accident. Lucas and Jean are reunited in Kirby Junction.

It is an existential but natural crisis that presents itself in The Junction, in a sneaky blend of nostalgic color, art, and imagery. If Lucas had chosen adulthood, he would have abandoned the familiar; in returning to Kirby Junction, he has his parents but no future. However, Jean’s ultimate fate indicates that everyone might be on their way there anyway, since Kirby Junction grows with its every new inhabitant. In this way, The Junction presents a hypnotic conundrum, fueled by a masterful blend of narrative and illustration, that few graphic novels achieve.

Aaron Heil lives with his wife in Emporia, Kansas, where he is an MLS candidate at Emporia State’s School of Library and Information Management. His prose has also appeared in the Cleveland Review of Books, Corvus Review, and elsewhere. He regularly blogs for The Game of Nerds.
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