1111 #1, October 1996, Crusade Comics
artist: Bernie Wrightson
writer: Joy Mosier-Dubinsky
In desperate need for new comics, I dragged my girlfriend to Frank & Sons again -- a warehouse expo in the City of Industry, California, featuring a flurry of retailers and collectible pop culture memorabilia, and most notably dozens of discount back issue bins. I picked up two weeks' worth of fodder for this project at less than ten dollars, including a few new releases I needed for my standard monthlies. I'm surprised Frank & Sons isn't as elbow-to-elbow as the Comic Con floor, but I suppose one can't too much of a good thing.
Which brings us to 1111. The painted cover of this first issue depicts a demon cradling a little girl against a cloudy night sky, an image that normally wouldn't appeal to my down-to-earth sensibilities. However, for only a quarter, I couldn't resist the title's connection to today's date, so I figure this review was meant to be. After all, with so many discount comics at my disposal, I had to feel if my potential purchases would be worthwhile, dependent usually on the cover image or credited creators, lest I lose my mind at the sheer volume of issues available.
Now, when I opened this issue, I prepared for a fantasy-intensive tale, but 1111 certainly was not what I expected. Oh, I would definitely categorize it as a fantasy story, but despite its format, 1111 was more of a picture book than a comic book. The even-numbered pages were solid text, although not enough to fill the frame, and the odd-numbered pages were illustrations seemingly out of Bernie Wrightson's sketch book, as they were finely detailed pencils sans inks or colors. In fact, despite this issue's intensive narrative, Wrightson is given top billing in the contributors' department, and his art is rightfully this book's major draw -- pardon the pun.
Further, I must say that the illustrations eventually became a solid page behind what was happening with the corresponding text. In other words, the story got ahead of the images, as if Wrightson only drew the parts he found most compelling, ignoring the eventual issue's format and layout. In spite of his masterful pencil strokes, the ill-timed pacing became distracting and detracted from the package as a whole.
Now, for the story. I can only imagine what the folks sitting around me at the coffee shop thought when my brow furrowed in disgust at the raw imagery established through this issue's opening page. Describing her birth, Hope, the protagonist, narrates, "The dim light of swampy foxfire seeped from the ground when my mother, Rachel, shat me into this world. She washed the birth-cheese from the pink creases of my arms with stagnant marsh water and handed me to my father . . . While Rachel sat in the swamp cleaning the after-birth from her thighs, Shannon sermonized for the enraptured crowd." That's exactly what my mother wrote under the baby pictures in our family album. Sheesh.
The concept of the story itself is rather interesting: Following the return of Jesus Christ and his followers' rapture, God, stuck with the unforeseen dilemma of a crowded Hell, grants the otherwise abandoned Earth to a legion of demons and subservient damned, who rebel and start an ethereal war with their would-be captors. Hope is the supposed savior of this New Time, but when a horde of demons kill her mother and whisk her back to their lair to raise her as their own, her followers, the Forgotten Fighters, are left hopeless -- in more ways than one. However, when Hope ventures out on her own and falls in love with her cherry-popping one night stand (and if you think that's putting it crudely you should read this issue), she embraces her destiny in the face of her surrogate demon-father's disdain. It's a coming of age story not only for a young woman but for a post apocalyptic world, as well.
Despite my initial shock and disgust with this story, I confess that I was enthralled with the outcome and was engrossed by the time Hope reached her solemn self-realization. Additionally, as the story got better, Wrightson's illustrations became less coherent, the surrealist prerogative of an established artist. I mentioned the poor pacing earlier -- while the issue would've benefited from a triumphant illustration of Hope embracing her destiny, instead our last visual impression of 1111 is an image from prior to the story's climatic moments. Yes, the story gets ahead of the drawings, and the drawing never catch up. Since I'm genuinely curious about where the writer is going to take this concept next, I must say I'd prefer a novella format with chapter heading illustrations than the ruse of a comic book package. But that's just me.
Many of the issues I purchased at Frank and Sons today are from indie companies -- titles and publishers (like Crusade Comics) that I've never heard of. I'm hoping for similarly challenging experiences. 1111 may not have utilized their different format to the best of its ability, but I appreciate the effort. As a generally mainstream reader, I had to wrap my head around the issue before I could fully immerse myself in it, the physical act of pulling my eyes away from the text to soak in the illustration. Obviously, the medium as a whole is taking whatever strides it can to appeal to today's hard-to-please audience -- to stay relevant and current. And what can be more current than reading an issue titled after today's date, eh?