Review: Blind Alley: The First Year

Blind Alley: The First Year
Adam de Souza, 134 pgs, self-published,, $16

Growing up in a small town is weird. Adam de Souza has created something special from this experience in his first collection of twice-weekly published strips about the “strange and lonely neighborhood of Blind Alley.”

Reading Blind Alley: The First Year feels less like following a new serialized webcomic than it does rediscovering a newspaper strip you’ve long forgotten existed. Maybe it’s because of its stylistic borrowings from classic cartoonists like Charles Schultz, Tove Jannson, or Walt Kelly, but more likely it’s because de Souza’s exceptional cartooning and cast of characters feels timeless. The strip’s four-panel gag format lets individual strips focus on comedic bits and moments of sincere melancholy, but its magic is in the longform narrative slowly revealing itself. What often distinguishes this comic is that its charming characters (and their relationships) grow and change, rather than sticking to a defined status quo.

The characters in Blind Alley, almost exclusively a group of twelve neighborhood kids and Penny the dog, grapple with existential challenges, but that doesn’t stop the strip from delivering classic comic gags. Visually distinct with a whimsical, costume-ish quality to character designs, there’s a comfortable tone of strangeness throughout that would feel at home in EarthBound or Twin Peaks. A shadowy creature living in the sewers or an eyeball peeking through the seams of a bindle feel no more out of place than kids directly addressing the discomfort of parents fighting or friendships drifting apart.

Throughout the book, de Souza’s linework becomes looser and more relaxed, and is overall better for it. The wobbly GRUNK of a guitar strum or CRUNCH of a trashcan and perfectly placed emanata against minimal backgrounds and expressive faces shows off his understanding of the language of comics, even as the style shifts. And there’s plenty of it! Blind Alley: The First Year is as much about self-discovery as it is about childlike wonder and adventure. If the next volume is anything like the first, there’s a heck of a story to look forward to.