Saturday, September 16, 2006

Canvas #2

Canvas #2, February 2001, Black Velvet Studios
contributors: Axel Ortiz, Geoff Ong, Jojo Aguilar, Tim Divar, Gerald Ong, Mikey Macasero

I didn’t want to review Canvas #2, because when I picked up Canvas #1 at the Alternative Press Expo back in April, I was disappointed that the short installments seemed less like chapters in larger stories and more like ashcan previews of potential series. Here’s the difference. Although a chapter is but one part of a whole, a good chapter still has a definitive beginning, middle, and an end, just like a patch in a quilt. The patch is useless by itself, but still retains an identity as a swash of fabric. An ashcan is usually just an excerpt from a potentially hit comic, oftentimes the most action-packed sequence, to give readers a taste of what the series has to offer. Yes, Canvas #1 read like an ashcan compilation. Canvas #2 was a bit better.

Incidentally, I picked up Canvas #2 from the freebie table at the Comic Con. Indeed, I’m still scraping from the bottom of my swag barrel. I haven’t had time to go to the comic book store, okay? Fortunately, I underestimated my butterfingers. I swiped more Con goodies than I thought.

Moving on. Canvas #2 features four shorts. Ironically, the stories that have potential are the most poorly illustrated, whereas the best drawn installments are easily the hardest to read. Ortiz and Ong’s Backspace is the tale of a Marvin the Martian-like character’s currier-travels through space. Beautifully illustrated, its narrative is too . . . fluffy is the word that comes to mind. The gimmick in this episode, an interstellar plant that devours its targets, unwittingly delivered by our Marvin-esque middleman, would have been best delivered without dialogue, so the reader could decipher the concept as a purely visual surprise. The goofy guffaws take the shocking out of the twist. Still, Backspace (which I realize is another example of irony, as it’s in the front) is quite easy on the eye.

The following two stories, Abrams and Hell on Earth, are decently illustrated but irrevocably cluttered by too many unnecessary words. Abrams is about a firepower-heavy armor-wearing hero that defeats a city-stomping dragon; this simple idea is rife with medieval narration, likening the tired concept (unfairly) to a fairy tale. Hell on Earth suffers from the ashcan syndrome, so much so that I can’t really tell you what the story is about. In fact, the last caption proudly proclaims, “Next Time: Not Just a Teaser.” Well, don’t go nuts there, guy. Cranking out four pages a month is surely all it takes to break into the business.

The final tale, Planet Fighter, holds the most promise. The illustration is good, if a bit stiff, and the story reads like a manga (in my limited experience) without the trapping of poor pacing or distracting visuals. The concept is, a soldier beholds his commander’s assassination and is forced to pilot the city’s skyscraping robot hero all by himself. Yes, it’s a one man Power Rangers, with genuine potential for character development. We often see these “zords” in modern sci-fi/action adventure literature, but I’ve never thought about the traumas their drivers might endure during battle. Here’s a chapter that makes me want to read the rest of the book.

I guess this is why the creators decided to call the compilation series Canvas in the first place. Like most artists, they’re slapping paint on the canvas and hoping it takes on a life of its own, a shape with long term potential that others can appreciate. With comics like these, however, an artist must remember, the smaller the painting, the larger the details, lest we miss the creator’s intent. The bottom line is, these chapters are too brief to hook me. Actually, they have a decent hook, but they won’t reel me in. If you can do without seeing the big picture, I say the canvas is better off blank.

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