BOOM! Studios gives us a heavy dose of 90s nostalgia (which, if you look at the back-to-school fashions at Kohl's right now, is very on-trend) with with a side of girl power with Hi-Fi Fight Club. It's 1998 New Jersey, and Chris is running late to her job at Vinyl Mayhem. We meet her friend/coworker/crush Maggie, along with a few of her other coworkers that are straight out of Empire Records: Dolores the cranky goth, Kennedy the "impossibly cool" music genius and ginger "boss lady" Irene. Chris is hoping this job helps her find herself—her relationship with Maggie, her musical talent, her friendships with her co-workers. After an in-store appearance by a local band is canceled, Chris finds out what really goes on at Vinyl Mayhem after hours: an underground fight club!
I was sold on this book by the first panel: "New Jersey, 1998." I may have bolted up while reading this in Central Park and shouted "MY CHILDHOOD!" (much to the chagrin of the families around me trying to have a quiet afternoon). This was a book I was going to immediately relate to. I was already envisioning Vinyl Mayhem in the town square of one of the Central Jersey municipalities that I spent many years during high school and college, perhaps downtown Princeton (perhaps the Princeton Record Exchange?), Westfield, or even my own hometown of Woodbridge, which is easy for a teen to reach on foot or on bike, a safe place to be after school, and the one central place to meet all your friends even though you go to different schools.
Writer Carly Usdin gives us a fun debut story, complete with age-appropriate language and a same-sex crush. These are not 15-year-olds talking and acting like 25-year-olds, they're talking and acting like 15-year-olds. Jim Campbell's letters just add to teenage angst, with enhanced text in just the right places to add that dose of teenage hormonal excitement. Hi-Fi Fight Club been compared to The Baby-Sitters Club, which isn't completely off base (four teenage girls at their first job working their way through life and all its troubles, and Usdin does claim it as one of her inspirations), but I find that to be less than 100 percent accurate. The Baby-Sitters Club is pure 80s, with younger heroines that aren't on an overt journey of self-discovery, and our star of Hi-Fi Fight Club is just starting on that path.
Unlike other comics that attempt period detail with limited success, there's just the right amount of time period and timelessness here (references to Lauryn Hill and Irene's wardrobe choices are pure late 90s culture, but the rest of the book is enduring enough that teens in 2017 won't have to ask their parents for explanations ("Mom, what's a Furby and why are people going nuts over them in this comic?").
Nina Vakueva and Rebecca Nalty cite anime (particularly Sailor Moon) as inspiration. Character designs are wide eyed with bright colors throughout. Dolores the Goth lives in grey and black. Maggie is the vision of the all-American teenager with blond hair, blue eyes, and denim, popular but not snobbish. Kennedy is the picture of hip-hop of the era: crop top under overalls, wide headbands. Chris edges towards masculine with her long sleeve polo shirt and baseball cap, but still stands out (ironically) in red and brown, a little more muted to reflect her shyness around her more confident coworkers. And Irene the Boss Lady is like a grown-up version of Dolores, flashing her individual rock girl style in management-appropriate attire. There's also something about everyone's hairstyle that expresses personality. The four ongoing employees seem to have styles that are put together with ease, whereas Chris's hair is in a perpetual state of mess. Her look is as confused as her personality is, and that's the point—she's still finding herself.
I know that the first rule of Hi-Fi Fight Club is not to talk about Hi-Fi Fight Club. But I'm going to break that one: Tell all your friends about Hi-Fi Fight Club! Whether you're a teenager or nostalgic for your teenage days, the gospel of the Vinyl Mayhem should be spread far and wide.