I’ve been a huge fan of Rachael Smith as a writer and autobiographical cartoonist for quite some time now, so when I saw her named attached to Good Game, Well Played, a brand new graphic novel on sale now from Maverick, the YA imprint of Mad Cave Studios, I simply knew I had to check it out. I mean, Smith’s track record, including the likes of Wired Up Wrong, Quarantine Comix and The Rabbit – which I’m happy to say was nominated for a British Comic Award during my brief stint on the Selection Committee back in 2014 – pretty much speaks for itself.
Joining Smith for this 175 page graphic novel bonanza is artist Katherine Lobo, who I’ll admit to being a little less familiar with, but who shows a deft hand throughout, providing us with some interesting and expressive characters and managing to keep the pages turning and the the layouts interesting throughout.
The opening section introduces us to our ragtag band of misfits, five best friends working in a local video game store called ‘Game Champ’, who discover that the store is on the brink of being shut down for good by a money-grabbing landlord, and who decide to do whatever they can to keep their beloved employer going.
Sienna is our main protagonist here; a plucky young thing with a positive attitude and some slightly meddling actions. She’s a bit of a goodie two-shoes for sure, but her heart is definitely in the right place. She also provides the neat framing device for the story, which kicks off with her flying back to visit her former friends ten years after the aforementioned employer-saving inative, and being forced to deal with the somewhat ignominious way they parted ways.
What I particularly enjoyed about this graphic novel is the way Smith manages to encourage an almost immediate investment in pretty much the entire cast of characters. At first glance they could potentially feel like one-dimensional stereotypes, and there definitely is an aspect of that, but Smith makes sure to throw in a ton of relatable little quirks and idiosyncrasies, quickly fleshing them out into living, breathing people that it’s difficult not to care about. Each of them has their own issues they’re working through alongside the potential loss of their employer, which only adds further depth to the overall story.
On the visual side of things, Lobo does a great job of bringing the narrative ebb and flow to the page. For such a character-focused book there’s obviously a lot of dialogue focused scenes, but Lobo keeps things visually interesting throughout. She also throws in some cracking artistic flourishes, such as a recurring “recap” style musical montage where we take stock of where all the characters are mentally (and a really cool sequence based on the classic Gauntlet arcade game) for good measure.
While it’s nothing fantastical or overly dramatic, Good Game, Well Played delivers an enjoyable and engaging all-ages drama, covering themes like friendship, self-belief and overcoming both internal and external adversity. What’s more, it makes you feel like you’re hanging out with a group of your own friends, and leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy when you finally put it down. What more could you ask for?
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]