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Crawl around the backlots of the internet and you'll find one comic pop up on almost every comic fansite or webzine, that somehow you've never seen in a comic book store. That book is Finder.

My search for it started one or two years ago, when I happened to catch an article over at Ninth Art listing the best science fiction comics to be read. Somewhere down the page, I read a blurb about Finder that told me barely anything about the plot, but the name somehow stuck with me. "Finder…" It just rolls off the tongue. I also noticed that the comic was written and drawn by a woman by the name of Carla Speed-McNeil. Women writers and artists being rare in the comic book industry, I was doubly intrigued.

So, I checked with my local comic shop, which didn't have a copy. Figuring I was simply unlucky, I next went to a bookstore, hoping the ever-growing graphic novel section would contain this much-sought volume, and that it wouldn't be blocked by the ever-expanding encroachment of the manga section. And there was no Finder to be found.

Over the next few months, I would duck into a comic or hobby shop and while perusing, I would always check for a copy. They never had one. Later, I thought to ask about ordering one from the distributor: my comic shop couldn't get it from Diamond for some reason, bookstores had never carried it and couldn't order it, and damn me if I couldn't find a website to PayPal my way to reading enjoyment. Even e-Bay refused me. (You're asking yourself, "Why didn't he check Amazon?" Because sometimes, even I am a dumbass.)

And then it was just there one day, sitting on the rack of a comic shop in New York, which I just happened to have a gift certificate for. (Divine Intervention? Jesus was standing there pointing to the rack…practically.) I was so shocked; I almost forgot to bring the damn thing up to the counter. I was afraid that after all that searching, reading the comic would somehow lack in cathartic release.

It's good to be wrong.

Finder is probably the best science fiction comic out there, and it is definitely one of the finest examples of comic book crafting to come out of both the modern publishing era and the small press. It's a ridiculously immersing work that pays close attention to detail and boasts more storytelling hooks than a Pulitzer reception.

The story revolves around Jaeger, and I say revolves because the story seems to simply happen around him as well as to him. Jaeger is the product of a series of army experiments that attempted to make a better soldier for the world of the future. He's strong, resilient, heals quickly, and is about as moral as a bag of frosted animal crackers. He is one of the few people that can survive out in the barren wastelands of the future: dry plains decimated by war and perhaps another factor as yet unseen. The only cities left are domed cities or "cynosures," providing protection from the harsher elements, and centers of civilization. Jaeger returns from the desert to Anvard, the city where he sells whatever he can find out in the wastelands.

In returning to the city, he comes into contact with a bevy of characters, most notably the Grosevnor family. The Grosevnors, all women, are in hiding from their abusive patriarch, and Jaeger stops in to crash whenever he needs a warm couch (or in this case, a warm kitchen floor and a throw pillow).

It's hard to talk about this book because of the level of detail that Speed-McNeil puts into it. While I've marveled before about some writers' abilities to world-build, I've never seen one make world-building so subtle a thing.

She gently weaves the various cultural and societal aspects of the future into a slow, but ultimately rich narrative. She pulls and borrows from several cultures to create this future: Indian pantheons and class systems go hand in hand with Islamic overtones and trappings of Native American myth, and they all seem to fit in fine with a future that features anthropomorphic animals walking around as regular citizens.

The characters themselves are just as rich and McNeil deserves high honors for her character work. She injects characters like Jaeger, who is amoral and fairly indifferent to the consequences of his actions, into the story and lets the reader watch him subtly change over the course of the book. McNeil never makes her characters good or evil, but makes them human. When we first get introduced to Emma, we assume she is the regular single mother of three girls working hard for her money. When she tells us the stories of abuse about her ex-husband Brig, she is empathetic and believable. But later, when certain points arise that make us question Emma's mere sanity.

McNeil allows the reader to form opinions about the characters she writes, and then smashes the preconceptions. McNeil writes as if she were sure exactly what the reader was going to infer from her story, and then shortly throws the leader for a loop. When we first encounter the character of Brig, it's hard to believe that this man is the controlling monster he is made out to be. In fact, by the end of the first volume, the entire situation between Brig and Emma is one of the most complex relationships ever portrayed in a comic book. The reader is not sure who is telling the truth, or whose story is a fabrication, leaving a state of ambiguity that creates a need for assurance. That assurance never comes, and the reader is left to question the text. While this might frustrate some, I was happily blown away when I read this, noting the depth it adds to the story.

McNeil also crafts some very good visual scenes (usually a staple of the writer-artist hyphenate). Her artwork is gorgeous and I could only compare it to Judd Winick's cartoonish style, only not cartoonish. Realism seems to be prevalent throughout every panel: human expressions are all there, showing off emotion after emotion. The placement of the characters in the panels is expert, as McNeil seems to be able to create a distinct sense of body language. Jaeger moves in a recognizable feline capacity, his movements graceful and not wasting a step. Emma and two of her children all move in a subdued shuffled kind of way, while the older daughter (teenager) moves around like an over-eager jack rabbit (note: rabbit reference does not only apply to basic movement, the girl is horny like most teens). Even Brig has a slow and careful quality to his movement that suggests time spent in prison.

McNeil's grasp of architecture and structure is excellent and she also accents the artwork with good attention to detail. Every face of one of the various clans in the city of Anvard has marking indicating rank and class and such, and McNeil spent the time to make them unique visuals, no just bad photo referencing of tribal paint. McNeil also does great work with her use of negative space in the oracle scene, and uses some odd angle shots to keep the reader interested (I will never get tired of the full page, overhead shot in a comic book, because it shows just how dynamic the artwork can really be).

I've barely scraped the surface of everything that's good in the book. It's rare to find a comic that possesses so much depth and meaning. There's a thousand plot threads to work through, subplots that are explored (and continued in later volumes I assume), with a cast of characters that are possessed of good dialogue and even better characterization.

McNeil has created Masterpiece-level work here. She treats the love scenes with tenderness and her human scenes with all the emotional ranges. Sin-Eater is a quintessential comic to add to your collection. Speed-McNeil actually footnotes every page in the appendix of the book, giving the reader valuable insight into the world she created. It sometimes reads like actual history (actual fictional history that is; wouldn't want to mix-up my realities…again).

So now, after reading and loving the first one, I will begin my journey to obtain volume two. Hopefully, it will cost the same or less than $15.95, as its predecessor did, so I can afford this junkie habit of a comic book series McNeil has concocted. My journey begins now…well…okay now…damn. I need some sherpas.

Robert Sparling

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