Trucking along, next up we have Kevin Colden’s Fishtown! This is a highly disturbing book featuring drug use, sexual content, nudity, language, violence, blood, and, well, minors. Though it’s a long list of warnings, fans of crime fiction and murder stories will probably enjoy this book.
Plot: Four teens craft a story of murder.
Initial thoughts: I didn’t really have a reason to read this book; I just thought the cover looked cool. The coolest thing about Fishtown is the way it is illustrated. The lines are dull, slate blue while the only color is a mustard, sickly yellow. A faded, burnt orange appears during sequences featuring blood, which gives an eerie quality to the world presented because it is as though blood is the only moment where these kids feel anything but the droll monotony of life. Another cool aspect of the book is how some flashback sequences are devoid of color except for the lines, which are colored in the yellow rather than the blue. You kind of have to squint at the page depending on your lighting, which is cool because it gives this sort of faded, peculiar effect of memory.
Unfortunately, the storytelling falls a bit short. There’s no mystery to this book: four teens are interviewed about a crime and all confess their truth of the crime. The ending leaves a
Itty Bitty Research: I started this research off by wondering how many child murderers there have been. While it doesn’t look authoritative at all, this site surprised me by how many killer minors there have been throughout history! In regards to Fishtown, ultimately I found that it is based on a true story. All the details of the murder, such as the choice of hatchet and rock as weapons or the listening to music before killing, are true to the story. Even more haunting is the fact that some of the original dialogue was included in the graphic novel, such as Justina’s/Angelica’s boasting of her manipulation skills and that “I enjoy dragging people along.” The realism of the story is horrifying, but the art style portrays the murderers as older, in part, I think, in order to distance the audience from the disturbing nature of the crime. If presented in an art style that shows these children as young, it might be more horrifying but it might also lend to sympathy. The art style is one way of embodying the ugliness of what these children have done.
Fishtown is a true-to-life neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA. As the VisitPhilly page will tell you, it’s a working-class neighborhood named after the industry, fishing, its first colonialist settlers engaged in. It’s interesting that Fishtown is named after their neighborhood instead of making a reference to apathy or the murderers. In a way, the narrative and the title seem to suggest that the social and geographic landscape lent themselves to cultivating these murderous 15 and 16-year-olds. After all, we never see a positive representation of parents in the book: Angelica’s sister implies that her drug use is okay because she’s older, Adrian’s uncle hits him, and the remaining parental figures are absent as though they are not around to parent their children. Even those beyond the parents, such as the drug dealers who deal to children and the apartment landlord who offers a roach- and mouse-infested apartment, are not positive inhabitants of Fishtown. It is Fishtown that is the incubator of violence. Furthermore, changing the names of the victim and four murderers (from Jason Sweeney, Justina Morley, Edward Batzig Jr., Nicholas Coia, and Dominic Coia) suggests that this story is not specifically about the death of Jason Sweeney; this is a social problem that still remains in Fishtown. The boys were sentenced to life without parole, but Justina Morley only received 17 1/2 to 35 years for her involvement. This, however, is not shown in the story. Instead, it is presented as as looped story, beginning and ending in a similar way. This cyclical frame represents the inability to break free from Fishtown.
Works cited: Colden, Kevin. Fishtown. San Diego: IDW Publishers, 2008. Print.