Heart Takes the Stage: A Heart of the City Collection | Review
Heart Takes the Stage: A Heart of the City Collection
Andrews McMeel, $11.99
The comic strip Heart of the City, created by Mark Tatulli, debuted in 1998. In 2020, the strip was passed to Steenz, and the little girl named Heart went to middle school. This volume, Heart Takes the Stage, is the first collection of Steenz’s strips.
I was curious to read the collection because I’d never heard of the comic (as I stopped reading the newspaper several years ago), and I liked Steenz’s work on Archival Quality. Plus, the idea of handing off a strip was intriguing. I wondered how much of it would feel modern or current. Sadly, not much — the plots are traditional and the characters one-dimensional.
I didn’t mind reading the book, but very little of it stuck with me. The character designs are lumpy and simplified, without any points of distinction. The storylines are mildly amusing, without memorable moments, substantial insight, or inspiration to a real laugh. The backgrounds are generic walls or lockers or nothing but pastel shading. There is a noticeable lack of other students.
Her friend Kat is defined by being her friend. Her friend Dean likes Star Wars a lot. That’s all we learn about them. (With the exception of one strip where Kat says she’s not interested in boys. We don’t know whether this means she’s gay or ace or something else, as it’s not followed up on.) The most interesting character is Charlotte, a theater tech who wants to hunt ghosts. She at least has some energy, even if she becomes a prop in the over-used storyline where Heart has to choose between being liked by popular kids and her real friends.
Other storylines include a Halloween party, Heart trying to raise money through odd jobs, and Heart trying to convince her mother to let her get her ears pierced. Heart is meant to live in Philadelphia, but there’s no sense of geography. She gets the lead role in the play, but we don’t see the show. The strip finally does something interesting when it puts the teachers out on strike, but the focus is on the kids being bored out of school. This would be a much more interesting comic if the storylines didn’t feel like we’d seen most of them before, decades ago.
Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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