Brooklyn’s Last Secret by Leslie Stein, published by Drawn+Quarterly, follows still-gunning-for-greatness band Major Threat as it makes its latest tour. The graphic novel features all the wild moments of a road trip alongside the ongoing exhaustion of playing night after night in towns hundreds of miles away from the night before. There are adventures, misadventures, mistakes, and double-takes as Major Threat seeks stardom, but most valuable of all are the relationships and life experiences taken in along the way.
Rather than following a strict plot per something like the hero’s journey, Brooklyn’s Last Secret is life by the slice. The story plays out mostly chronologically with the band leaving New York and venturing west in its trusty van, looping back through the Southwest, and returning home where nothing has changed, yet everything has. Who gets to be protagonist swaps in and out like the driver’s seat as the van covers miles.
Guitarist Lilith dresses half her age impeccably and keeps a collection of lollipops to hold her nerves in check. Drummer Ed is the dad of the crew and keeps his laptop with him to do work while they travel. Newcomer and lead singer Marco keeps his joie de vivre with energy drinks and has a lot to learn. Bassist Paul is a low-talker, having almost no dialogue in the comic outside of squiggly lines needing interpreting by Marco, yet he always seems to know everybody and hints at a mysterious past.
There can be no telling what will happen on the next page throughout Brooklyn’s Last Secret, much like a real band tour. Exes and fanboys appear. Checking out the other bands reveals strange rituals of shooting hot sauce before performing to keep energy up on stage. Pulling over for roadside photo ops is one thing; being pulled over for speeding and getting out of a ticket by playing up the members with mustaches as cop style is another.
Tenderness comes at the most unexpected times, but it is the perfect ending to a bad trip brought on by borrowing from someone else’s medicine cabinet. On the road, the bandmates pass the time by trying to list the best or worst in different categories, such as debating whether “buffoon,” “goober,” or “dweeb” is the funniest term for an uncool person.
Stein’s art style is all its own in Brooklyn’s Last Secret. The filled-out stick figure body types give a sense of abstraction that works well with the watercolor coloring, creating a vibe that is somehow at once simple and yet deeply complex. The backgrounds, sometimes blank and sometimes incredibly detailed backgrounds, lend even more to those moments of vague memory and the times that seem to emblazon themselves forever. Even more so are the incomplete faces with floating expressions almost ghostlike.
The repeated use of six panels per page in Brooklyn’s Last Stand provides a rhythm very fitting for a graphic novel about a band. Art and writing work hand-in-hand for the story, giving the reader the feeling of riding along on such a busy chapter in the characters’ lives, glad to be home while yearning for the next gig already.