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Thunderhead Underground Falls    by Joel Orff order for
Thunderhead Underground Falls
by Joel Orff
Order:  USA  Can
Alternative Comics, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

When Jack signed up for the Army, he never imagined he would meet a girl with whom he would form such a deep connection. But in the last days before he is shipped off, he shares amusing, solemn, and intimate moments with this young woman, hoping that the connection will last despite the physical distance soon to grow between the two.

The graphic novel links together those moments between Jack and the (unnamed) girl that bring them from their first introduction to when Jack and his shaved head are on the plane, leaving his life behind. Of course, the few moments these two people share drive the story, reminding readers of the many precious and amusing moments we can share with one another. In one instance, Jack brings the girl into the forbidden terrain of the men's bathroom to witness an art project in progress (though it's probably not what you think). Another scene shows the two gallivanting about the silent snowy town in the middle of the night, appreciating the crisp night air and the quietly settled town. Of course, their adventures also border on the mischievous, such as when they explore a house whose owner left his doors unlocked. And in the middle of the night, they impetuously decide to drive to Thunderhead Underground Falls, some seven hundred miles away.

Orff's black and white art manages the story well. In drawing specific people and scenes, Orff is not big on detail or realism, but that works for the story since most readers will attempt to find themselves in (or idealize themselves as) one of the main characters. But Orff's most amazing feat is his adeptness at using few words and letting the panels speak for themselves. Panel by panel, Orff elicits a soundtrack of Jack's story from the mere sound of footsteps or a car driving through the night. The characters talk, but their words are minimal, leaving their positioning and body language to carry the conversation. It's also this lack of direct information that leaves readers guessing what does and doesn't happen. What parts may have been a dream and what events happened in what order are questions readers must decide for themselves.

Thunderhead Underground Falls is a sweet and simple graphic novel that captures time spent between two people whose emotions and intimacy are apparent, despite our seeing few physical displays of affection between the two. Orff's talents shine in this tale, which combines a soft plot with sincere emotions and inner turmoil.

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