I recently found a copy of Decelerate Blue at the local library, and picked it up on a whim. I have the habit of doing this for First Second books, which are often in abundant supply in the graphic novel-centric public library space. The book is 200+ pages long, mostly black and white with some color pages for emphasis. The production quality of the book is lovely – it’s a paperback, but with French flaps, light blue gilding, and spot gloss embossing on the front cover. Most of the graphic novels First Second is working on right now fall firmly in the purview of YA; Decelerate Blue is targeted at 12-17 year old readers.
The story of Decelerate Blue follows typical angsty teen Angela who lives in an accelerated consumerist society obsessed with maintaining the Guarantee – a philosophy of living, speaking, buying, and eating that focuses on quickness and compliance. This is a post-USA North America, much like the implied Districts of the Hunger Games, although the implication is much more obvious here. Angela hates the world she lives in and just wants to slow down. When she’s sent on a treasure hunt by her ailing grandfather, she stumbles into a resistance group determined to live slower, and also stumbles into a relationship with fellow slow girl Gladys.
Decelerate Blue feels like a very standard YA story. All the right pieces are in place; the teen who knows the world is broken, the
resistance, the romance, the dangerous mission. That formula works, which is part of the reason why YA is such a strong market right now, but it’s also hopelessly similar. The similarities don’t end with the genre; there’s more than a passing resemblance to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and specific beats throughout the book feel lifted wholecloth. The linguistics are the most clearly influenced by Bradbury, but they’re used in a much less cognitive way. Rapp hints at the idea of deleted words and other features of Newspeak, but without the unsettling sense of lost function. This is fine, but there’s a scene where these teens are bragging about how low they can get their heart rates, calling each other speed-based insults, that was eyeroll-inducing.
Decelerate Blue also suffers from poor pacing. For example – Angela and Gladys’ relationship moves from “hey I have seen you previously” to making out within 3 pages. I appreciate the inclusion of a queer romantic relationship in the comic, but it didn’t click for me as a reader, probably due to the way that the characters were developed. There’s an inconsistency in how the story moves. At
points in the beginning it dawdles, and at times like the one mentioned above, you’re left scratching your head wondering what you missed. The comic generally speeds up as the book progresses, leaving the storytelling feeling compressed. There’s a specific moment in the book that feels very “drink the Kool-Aid” to me, and I wonder why that image has stuck in my craw; it’s a very disturbing image, although I’m not sure it’s intended that way. Generally the linework and the spot blacks were good if not transcendent. I liked the scenes that happened in the rain, which let Cavallo’s linework shine; I was reminded of Nate Powell’s early work. I was impressed with the choice to use full color in those scenes where things are especially emotionally intense.
Ultimately I found Decelerate Blue’s central argument, to slow down and smell the roses, a little ham-fisted. Every teen has had teachers and parents tell them this piece of sage advice, and coming from a graphic novel might make it a little more palatable, but the intended reader is still going to see right through it. Put more bluntly, teens aren’t stupid. The setting and the influences are interesting, but felt overdrawn. Even using some of the strong literary influence of Fahrenheit 451 and having a interesting concept could not save Decelerate Blue from feeling like a missed opportunity to tell a much more engaged, vibrant story.
Sequential State is a comics criticism project curated by Alex Hoffman. Its goal is to explore the world of comics with a focus on independent publishers, self-published comics, micro-press, zine culture, small press, and manga publishing. Support the site on Patreon! There are some cool thank-you gifts, including a curated comics mailer every month.