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Girls Gone Graphic: Poseurs Parses LA Nightlife

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Poseurs, Deborah Vankin's funny, touching graphic novel about the adventures of three young adults immersed in an L.A. party culture where reality is a relative term, reminds me of how I learned to decode the notorious "Hollywood No."

I'd invited a major movie star to a party, and his office had RSVP'd affirmatively and, it seemed, enthusiastically. In the event, I wasted the evening waiting in vain for my Guffman, rather than, as that infamous poseur Donald Rumsfeld might advise, partying with the army I had. I checked in with the star's office the next day, expecting at least a mechanical apology. Instead, an aide informed, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, "Oh, he RSVP's 'yes' for everything, just in case he decides to go."

Poseurs, with art by veteran comic book artist Rick Mays (Gen 13, Kabuki, Arsenal et al), was itself a near-casualty of the Hollywood No.

In 2007, DC Comics editor Shelly Bond launched the Minx line, an innovative imprint aimed at combining the best elements of graphic novels and fiction geared towards young women to produce stories of female protagonists who could be heroic without being superheroes. Initial releases included The Plain Janes by author Cecil Castellucci and artist Jim Rugg, Andi Watson and Josh Howard's Clubbing, Mike Carey, Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel's Re-Gifters and Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm's Good as Lily.

Encouraged by critical acclaim for these titles from Publishers Weekly, Vanity Fair and others, Bond sought a story set in Los Angeles. Vankin -- who's observed L.A. youth culture at a granular level during stints as a writer/editor at LA Weekly, Metromix LA and now the LA Times -- was a natural choice. Minx bought and developed Poseurs, and Vankin and Mays spent a year and a half putting it together.

Then, in the fall of 2008, DC's "yes" became a "no" when the financial crisis exploded and suddenly, as Variety might have put it, "Minx, Jinxed, Gets Sphinxed."

Fortunately for all, indie graphic novel publisher Image Comics picked up the project and Poseurs is set for an April 13 release. " Image publisher Eric Stephenson said, "The vast majority of comics are aimed at an older audience these days, so I think a big part of Poseurs' appeal is that it's not only intended for younger readers, but also, it's looking beyond the typically male comics readership."

Vankin sees her debut book as, "On the surface, a 'party noir' about Hollywood nightlife. At its heart, it's also a story about identity, finding your tribe in life, and self acceptance -- the three main characters are all, in their own quirky ways, on a journey of self discovery."

That self-discovery takes the protagonists through a smorgasbord of fakery and misdirection. One character is paid to pretend to be a guest at parties; another, after being "parachuted" into a mansion in Arcadia where a lawyer pretends to be her guardian, tells her parents in Taiwan that she's attending high school. A tattoo parlor turns out to be a secret underground speakeasy, a gang thug is really a poetry-reading mensch, and an eagle soaring across the sky is, on closer inspection, a plastic kite. The central plot development is a faux-kidnapping -- or is it? -- which takes a post-modern digital detour when the kidnapper/kidnappee records her own video ransom note on her cell phone -- and then cc's herself!

Poseurs is squarely aimed at the young adult female demo, and its two female protagonists are terrific. "What particularly appealed to me about Poseurs was the opportunity to work on a story about young women (teens, really) that focused more on drama and had nothing to do with superheroics," Mays says. "Superhero outfits are nice, but I tend to enjoy dressing characters in cool clothes -- like people."

My favorite character, though, is Mac (for whom "Youth slang is my freedom song"), the ninth most prolific contributor to an online compendium of hip jargon. He peppers his ironic remarks with such word-melds as "fauxbia," "momopolize," "mirthquake" and "crunk juice." Puns and other flights of language fancy play an important role in the book as a whole -- Vankin, a lover of language since early childhood, says, "I had a lot of fun with the 'urban slanguage' in the book."

Vankin's other love -- L.A. and its nightlife -- informs her satire with affection, and leads us, gently, to the awareness that we're all poseurs on the proverbial path to self-knowledge. How could Hollywood, or anyone else, say "no" to that?