Comics creators have a free rein to delve into the past, as they have no concerns for budget, no limits outside of their own imaginations. No one needs to hire construction workers to build a set or seamstresses to sew period costumes. So, it's a simple task for writer Rob Vollmar to take us back to 1932 for his graphic novel THE CASTAWAYS. He has access to the train yards and the small towns where men who were down on their luck elected to keep themselves warm, and he can present them to a reader without fear that modern concerns will horn their way in.
Once Vollmar has us where he wants us, he's free to move about and mine this past for a subtle story that traverses the bounds of race, family, and class to get to the human heart that pumps blood into all three. Tucker is a thirteen-year-old boy who has been tricked into leaving his home by the woman that has taken his family in. Convinced he is a burden and should be earning his way in the world, he hops a train. There he meets veteran rail rider Elijah. The kindly African-American shows him the ropes of hobo life -- including the distinctions between hobos, tramps, and bums -- and ultimately sends the boy back on the proper path. He does so through another trick, but this one designed to show Tucker the truth, not to hurt him.
Vollmar's script is well researched enough that the research doesn't show through. He works with the vernacular of the time, but never in such a way as to be showy or distracting. His ending is a little pat, but forgivable. Pablo G. Callejo aids him ably, giving the characters the proper emotion and setting the scene well. His style is a bit primitive, and often the inking is clumsy, but it ends up being only a minor drawback to an otherwise involving slice-of-life graphic novel. As with any good historical morality tale, THE CASTAWAYS resonates with contemporary audiences because its message is still relevant. Vollmar's unlikely pair ends up showing us that life hasn't changed all that much, and like Elijah, we have miles to go before we get where we are going.
Jamie S. Rich has edited comic books for ten years, over half of them as editor in chief at Oni Press. In 2000, he published his first novel, Cut My Hair, and is currently exploring his second. When it's done, he swears his website, confessions123.com, will make a lot more sense. In addition, he has written film and music criticism for various publications, and has worked on scripts for far more Tokyopop manga translations than he cares to count.