Centralia 2050 Volume 1
Writer, Artist, & Letterer: Michelle Stanford
A review by Michael Hein
Comic book creators who wear multiple hats — penciller, writer, inker, letterer, colorist — are some of the most amazing people in the industry. The result of these single-minded works often offers a more cohesive relationship between the book’s elements, and leads to some of the most amazing stories on shelves today. Michelle Stanford gives us just that in Centralia 2050, a cyberpunk fantasy coming soon to Kickstarter.
For many of us, sci-fi connotes far-flung futures, interdimensional travel, and alien visitation. Yet, in today’s world, it can be at least as exciting to examine the near future — or perhaps even moreso. Trends in technological advancement have become predictable through algorithms and research, but the ways in which they’ll change our lives leave room for brilliant stories and art to be crafted here and now.
Centralia 2050 drops the reader into a world they’ll probably live to see, and that makes it all the more entrancing. It features jaw-dropping wide shots of futuristic cityscapes and urban planning, as well as ground-level treks through the brightly-lit labyrinth of Centralia. The world-building is subtle and gradual, and it walks the fine line between fantastical and believable. Most of the technology in the book — high-speed rail, virtual reality, genetic modification — is simply a logical next step in technology we rely on today. Stanford relies more on her style and delivery to create the tone and setting for her story, rather than the particulars of the world itself.
The story is expertly paced, designed to keep a reader’s attention without withholding information in an obvious way. Though the book sits comfortably in the mystery genre, there’s no sense of a grand scheme or outline. The events follow each other organically, and by the time one puzzle is solved the reader is already invested in two more. Stanford leads the reader with a carrot on a stick, but she lets them get it once in awhile, making for a satisfying read.
It’s clear from the start that Centralia 2050 focuses on the characters. Midori, our central hero, has a form of amnesia that seems not to bother her in the slightest. She asks no questions about who she is and where she came from, focusing instead on finding a missing girl from her dreams. This framing device adds a surreal lens to the element. Meanwhile, Midori’s new friend Grey is apparently drawn into her influence the same way the reader is. He follows her lead in eschewing these logistical questions in favor of the fantastical ones.
One really strong feature of the story here is the inclusion of so many silent pages. There are whole scenes and sequences with no dialogue, no narration, and no thought balloons, which help give the story this sprawling feel. We can likely attribute this, again, to Stanford sharing the duties of both writer and artist, as well as her commitment to this project. According to her website, Stanford has been at work on this book since 2014, and it shows. The hours have added up into a book that was made the way the creator wanted it to be, without compromise for the sake of publishing. Because the book belongs to Stanford alone, and she answers to no one, the reader is treated to quick cut sequences that one can’t imagine seeing in a script, as well as a reliance on expression that a writer alone wouldn’t dare count on.
Centralia 2050 features colored covers for each chapter, but black and white pages. Personally, this style really appeals to me. It leaves some room for imaginative reading, and puts the focus more firmly on the story. In addition, “black and white” isn’t exactly accurate, as Stanford’s shading is a marvel in and of itself. The colorless pages betray a bit of a manga influence, which suits this book perfectly.
Buy it! Chapter One is available right now on Centralia2050.com, but the Kickstarter for Volume 1 goes up on October 15th, and it’s absolutely worth the wait. Centralia 2050 is spellbinding, it represents a patient and concerted effort from a true comic book talent. On her website, Stanford notes that she felt alienated by the representation of women in media, and this book was aimed partially at remedying that. She has most certainly achieved that goal — Centralia 2050 is a heartening read for those seeking real female heroes in comics, and would make a perfect gift for young creators as well.