Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format—please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.
What’s it about?
Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder is an eclectic title. While the series does have a nominal protagonist—vagabond anti-hero Jaeger Ayers, part superhero, part outcast, part sexy beast—Finder is really about mapping out McNeil’s complex and remarkable—far future or alien?—world. Each story ricochets to a new setting, and often to new protagonists as well. Heroes such as graduate student/temple prostitute Vary Krishna and cyber-elf god Magri White emerge in their respective corners of existence. McNeil’s stories have taken her readers into the domed city of Anvard, into the unsettling Disneyland parody The Happy Place, onto lush plains grudgingly shared by lion-women and hyper-intelligent dinosaur people, and into the shared dreamspace named Elsewhere. Dubbed an “aboriginal science fiction” by some, Finder follows the lives of a web of characters, with a strand always connecting them back to Jaeger. Finder’s reality is casually miraculous, with wonders around every corner, and with a panoply of unlikely heroes and shocking—sometimes cynical—stories filling it like a pot, ready to spill. At turns funny and tragic, romantic and erotic, inviting and strange, Finder’s world and stories are unlike any others.
Finder is a one-woman show, and was originally self-published. As such, the comic has been slowly coming out since 1996. Now, more 20 years in, McNeil has created an impressive number of stories, currently available in five volumes from Dark Horse. She has also developed a quiet but passionate fanbase. The first three volumes of the Dark Horse editions of Finder (The Finder Library, vols. 1-2 and Finder: Voice) are in black and white; color was introduced to the series in Finder: Third World with dazzling results. McNeil is a master of her craft. The series has been characterized throughout by McNeil’s compelling and intricate artwork, so full of details that the printed page can barely sustain it. Every story is full to bursting with ideas and as a result McNeil has taken to footnoting each volume with copious notes on the text and artwork that fill in the apparent gaps in her world with commentary that is as entertaining as her stories.
Although Finder is a science fiction series, its stories often transcend or merge genres. Adventure, domestic drama, horror, hard sci-fi, and raunchy humor often exist in close proximity. McNeil has crafted a world with no monoliths, where each society is different, and the rituals, traditions, and individuals she brings to life are often based on deep anthropological and historical research. She considers the implications of technologies—sociological, economic, anthropological—deeply when crafting her societies, often bringing in Jaeger as a combination of outcast fly in the ointment and fly on the wall.
The series is also marked by McNeil’s profound imagination. Jaeger, for example is a tough guy tracker with almost preternatural senses who heals supernaturally fast. He could easily come across as a poor man’s Wolverine if it wasn’t for the combination of his sharp, hilarious personality, his tendency to get his own butt kicked, and the fact that his “powers” also act like an immune disorder—if he doesn’t get hurt badly, regularly, his hyper immune system will turn on his own body as it looks for problems to fix. Other brilliant innovations include the Laeske—a race of feathered dinosaur-ish quadrupeds that lose their minds during mating season, but are tenured professors the rest of the year; the Painwright Museum, where you can learn anyone else’s greatest fears at the price of revealing your own; the aforementioned Elsewhere, a virtual world visited by millions every day but held together by one man’s fragile, perfect memory; and a vast psychic reclamation project where sensitives probe the distant past for fragments of forgotten pop songs and icons. Big ideas and regular people exist side by side in McNeil’s work, just like in the real world. This is a literary series that draws its audience in with its intricate concepts and characters, and immaculate prose. Like Shakespeare and Joyce, McNeil tells her stories with humor and aplomb, and a love for her world and characters that permeates her work and humanizes all but her most disturbing characters.
McNeil is well loved on the small press circuit and it’s hard to find an indie creators unfamiliar with her work. Finder won a single Eisner Award (for Best Digital Comic/Webcomic in 2009), but has been nominated on seven different occasions. It has also won two Ignatz Awards, the Friends of Lulu’s Kim Yale Award, and the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. While McNeil is a clear storyteller, the idea density on every page of Finder is remarkable, on par with a modernist classic like Ulysses, where the reader will be quite happy if they get one reference out of every ten. This is a highbrow, literary comic that isn’t afraid to get down in the muck of human existence, and is one of those books that should be pointed to when looking for an example of high art in comics.
Finder is also notable for its representation of different kinds of social outsiders. Jaeger, for example, is the sci-fi equivalent of a kid who grew up on the Native American reservation but, as a half-breed, can never fit in. Other characters include (the equivalent of) a South Asian call girl, a girl artist in search of her art, a mother trying to keep her family safe, a powerful clan of men and women—where every full-blooded man is a drag queen. It’s never been weird to be queer or dark-skinned in McNeil’s fiction, it happens so often that it’s usually unremarked upon. This is truer now in comics than ever before, and McNeil was one of the first to quietly pave the way. There’s a lot for readers of different colors and identities to enjoy in Finder.
Finder is foremost a book for adult readers, and in libraries is destined for adult bookshelves. Its humorous treatment of serious subjects could also hold an interest for teen readers, but the book’s sometimes brutal violence combined with McNeil’s unflinching use of nudity marks it clearly as a adult title. Sci-fi fans are sure to appreciate the sheer imagination driving these stories, and literary readers will appreciate the clear characterizations and engaging plots. There’s also plenty there for fans of humor, horror, and even romance. It’s also not for nothing that Jaeger ranked #8 on ComicsAlliance’s list of The 50 Sexiest Male Characters in Comics in 2013.
Why should you own this?
This is my favorite anecdote about Carla: when I first met her in the late 1990s, no one was flocking to her table. She gave me the first single issue of Finder; I read it that night, came back the next morning breathless and bought a copy of everything she had.
Finder is an investment that pays big dividends. The two Dark Horse omnibus The Finder Library collections are each more than 600 pages long, while more recent collections are more standard graphic novel length. As a series, Finder is a part of the foundation of a great comic collection. There are no substitutes or equivalents. Readers who have never been exposed to McNeil’s work will be astounded and will keep coming back to it like a swim in a strange-but-familiar pond.
by Carla Speed McNeil
The Finder Library, vol. 1 ISBN: 9781595826527
The Finder Library, vol. 2 ISBN: 9781595826534
Finder: Voice ISBN: 9781595826510
Finder: Third World ISBN: 9781616554675
Finder: Chase the Lady ISBN: 9781506705439 (forthcoming)
Publisher Age Rating: N/A (Adult)