The zany, sci-fi world of Grrl Scouts returns with Jim Mahfood’s latest installment, Grrl Scouts: Stone Ghost. A heartfelt and raunchy book that features primarily new characters, this is a great jumping-on point for anyone new to the series.
Stone Ghost follows Dio, a girl with a sorrowful past who hires a surly gunman, Turtleneck Jones, to help her track down the ashes of Billy, her deceased boyfriend. What seems like a simple job quickly turns deadly and complicated, and Dio learns that she is more than she seems.
The central idea of Dio’s journey is how she experiences grief. Her feelings are deeply contradictory: numb yet emotional, a somehow weightless and heavy feeling in her chest. In a way, her sadness is almost dream-like, and the art is what makes this so poignant.
For me, this is one of the first times I have more to say about the art than the story. It’s simply stunning that it is so intentionally crafted and experimental without feeling overwhelming or gaudy. Mahfood throws everything, the kitchen sink, and perhaps a toaster or two into these pages.
The first notable feature is how Mahfood switches between styles of paper for specific moods and settings. He switches frequently between white, off-white, and tan-colored backgrounds for the majority of the book. Each switch excellently signals immediately to the reader where the scene is taking place and how they should feel.
This is most effective whenever Dio is reminiscing about her and Billy. These pages are drawn on yellow legal paper with heavy inks in a doodle-like style. These choices quickly tint these memories in a complex combination of idealism and melancholy due to their monochromatic and cutesy design.
In general, Mahfood’s pencils are messy and chaotic, opting more for emotion and style than for picture-perfect depictions of the action. At a first glance, the art appears hastily done, but because the style is so consistent and the pages masterfully laid out, it is clear that it is deeply deliberate.
This becomes apparent when one digs deeper into each panel. Many of them are incredibly detailed and have lots of special effects using paint, inks, collage techniques, and screen tones, but the focus and flow of the story are never lost.
One way Mahfood achieves this is through his incredible use of color. Again, preferring mood to photorealism, he chooses anywhere from 2-4 colors for a handful of pages before switching to another.
In my opinion Grrl Scouts: Stone Ghost is one of the best demonstrations of why color is so important to highlight the important moments of each page. Mahfood’s eye for contrast allows the main characters to never be lost among the scratchy pencils and busy cityscapes.
The book also uses lettering in fantastic ways. While most comics have the heroes with clean fonts and the villains with more messy letters, Grrl Scouts: Stone Ghosts flips this idea completely.
Dio and Turtleneck Jones have a hectic, hand-drawn look to all of their dialogue, while the villains have digitally lettered balloons. These distinctions in style make the main character feel more like a scrappy bunch of rebels, while the villains seem more calculating and sinister.
Through all of these choices, the reader is taken on an emotional rollercoaster. Tender moments are more gut-wrenching and the violent ones more intense because of this quasi-psychedelic style. The reader will be immersed in the inner feelings of every moment. While the art and storytelling will not be everyone’s flavor of the week, Grrl Scouts: Stone Ghost screams comic. Every beat and artistic choice could only be successful in this medium. If comics fans want something unique and boundary-pushing, this is the book.