Cynical hedonist Nikita Koshkin is 27, overweight, and unfulfilled, both in his job at the local public health department and in his love life. After his doctor refuses to give him a prescription for the phantom pains he still suffers three years after the amputation of his left hand, he returns to work in a foul mood only to find he’s been inexplicably paired up with an awkward new guy named Lucian to give a last-minute high school lecture on the dangers of misusing antibiotics. Could life be any more depressing? The students are less than receptive and the lecture goes predictably awry, but when Nikita and Lucian step out to let the official video cover the rest (“This is Lucy,” intones the ominous voice-over. “She thought she could fight a cold with amoxicillin. She was wrong.”), the two share a conspiratorial smirk in the hall and Nikita reevaluates his day. Maybe everything’s not so awful, after all? There’s just one problem….
Stipetic mentions on her website that she wrote this self-published comic because she wanted to read it. As reasons go for telling a story, that’s one of the best. If the author cares about and enjoys what she’s creating, chances are the reader will, too, and that is definitely the case here.
The relationship at the heart of this smart, snarky, candid romance is surprisingly healthy. Even with their issues (and they’ve both got them — including the one inspiring the title, the relevance of which doesn’t come up until the last page), Nikita and Lucian make every effort to hold onto and build what they have. They court each other with adorably doofy notes, good food, and laughter. As realistic individuals navigating realistic conflicts, they also get embarrassed, frustrated, and angry, but they inevitably seek one another out to apologize, talk things through, and do what they can to make things work. That current of thoughtful optimism is its hook, leaving the reader rooting for the leads and impatiently waiting for the next installment. In fact, the volume’s slim size is its one drawback, as it feels more like an extended opening chapter than a individual segment of its own, leaving the reader eager for more just as the full set-up becomes clear.
Eschewing screentone for hand-drawn shadow and texture, Stipetic’s fluid black and white art is at turns bold and delicate, making good use of varying layouts and interesting perspectives. Background details, like Lucian’s Garfield Minus Garfield desk calendar or the scale model of a virus displayed in Nikita’s bedroom, define moments, punctuate jokes, and lend a subtle hand to characterization and plot. Concrete little details like these combine with imaginative ones, such as Nikita’s elastic facial expressions and Lucian’s surreal, interpretation-inviting dreamscapes, to form a compelling visual narrative that reflects the emotional realism of the story.
With its adult protagonists, strong language (Nikita does have an affection for the f-word), sexual situations, depictions of male nudity, and frank discussion of mature subjects (in the office and out — this is the public health department, after all), 14 Nights is a refreshingly blunt story about overcoming hurdles through communication, verbal and otherwise, that will best resonate with adults appreciative of its hopeful tone and sympathetic representation of familiar fears and insecurities in the face of society’s often wrong-headed expectations.
Currently, you can pick up a print edition of this introductory volume from the author’s website, where she’s also generously made both it and its equally involving in-progress continuation available to read online. Stipetic is unquestionably talented and I hope she keeps writing, drawing, and sharing stories she wants to read for years to come.