Viper Comics Presents volume 2, April 2007, Viper Comics
by Josh Howard, Greg Gatlin, Nicc Balce, David Hopkins, Tom Kurzanski, Michael Young, Jason M. Burns, Paul Tucker, Otis Frampton, Sergio Quijada, and more!
Unless your vehicle is equipped with one of those new-fangled CD or MP3 players, you know that searching for a radio station while driving through a desert or rural stretch in our country is one of the most frustrating and desperate American experiences ever. We're so accustomed to (and spoiled by) constant entertainment that for many a few silent hours of unadulterated "road trip" is a special kind of torture, only made worse by those teasing static pops the radio occasionally coughs, those remnants of familiar songs that we strain our ears to enjoy if just for a few fleeting seconds. Oh, don't look at me like you don't know what I'm talking about -- and if you really don't, I recommend you go experience some of our barren countryside. Those staticy moments of radio broadcast are what today's Free Comic Book Day reading exercise reminded me of; while yesterday's issues featured excerpts from ongoing series, many of today's comics sampled just one or two pages of material from webcomics or anthologies. Needless to say, these sequential bursts of visual broadcast were barely audible, but this journey was nothing but barren.
In fact, if a casual reader immersed himself into the seven comic books I read today, he'd be convinced that this industry is the most diverse, seemingly unfiltered medium in the American marketplace . . .
So, as a batch of books trying to make their imprint in the field, leave it to Sasquatch to lead the pack. Viper Comics Presents kicks off today's inevitable frustration with samples of short stories (because the short stories weren't short enough!) from Josh Howard's Sasquatch anthology -- yes, a series of yarns by a variety of artists starring Bigfoot himself. I've been a fan of Bigfoot since I was a kid, and I almost purchased Howard's twenty dollar volume at the Alternative Press Expo last month, so I'm grateful for this preview, however brief. The respectful handling of the Sasquatch phenomenon through the lens of a diverse band of artists is enough for me! If only Viper had stuck with sticking just one big toe into pool -- no, they had to dive in, adding pages from their forthcoming Karma Incorporated, Underworld Railroad, and Oddly Normal projects, as well, none of which were insightful enough to offer a real sense of what one might experience reading an entire issue of either title. Fortunately, the artistic quality of these projects will certainly warrant a flip test when I see these books on the new release shelf, but as a veteran fanboy, pretty pictures just aren't enough to squeeze three bucks out of me. Good thing this issue was free, if not also as elusive as its Sasquatchian headliner, looking over his shoulder at us but disappearing into the brush before we can get a really good luck. And I believe I've pushed this analogy about as far as it'll go.
Both offerings from Comic Genesis and Legion of Evil Press featured samples of currently actice webcomics, ranging from a half a page to four printed pages in length, and reading both of these issues was one of the most breakneck experiences I've ever had this side of a comic book. Like two other issues I read today and will review later, I actually took the time to absorb each entry, each contributors' work more thoroughly rather than through this FCBD review marathon, I might have enjoyed these comics more, but as it stands, I don't think this format suits such an anthology. I'd recommend one or two webcomics titles' worth of "back issues," a solid issue's worth of strips that establish a flavor for this cyber genre, then supplemented by an appreciative essay (like many of these FCBD issues have) that explains the up-and-coming phenomenon further. As it stands, the Comic Genesis sampler was a very poor package, from its amateur content to its shameless solicitation for more. The Legion of Evil Press' Comics Festival was much more compelling, starring recognizable and beloved artists like Darwyn Cooke and Hope Larson, featuring material that tested the bounds of the visual medium, but it was still much more teasing than pleasing. I'll be looking some of the Legion's stuff up, though. Mission accomplished, there.
I mentioned that some of these issues might have made a more favorable impression had I taken the time to enjoy them more, and further that some of these issues fall into my self-styled innovative category, challenged the normal conceptions of what a comic book is. The Train Was Bang on Time by Eddie Campbell and Activity Book (An Excerpt from What It Is) by Lynda Barry are the two most prominent examples, each finely crafted and packaged examples of comics at their most inventive, and, in Barry's case, interactive. Measuring 9.5" x 6.25", Activity Book is an interactive challenge to the reader to start writing; absurdly instructional and existentially inspirational, Barry's driving lesson is to keep the pen moving, as she offers real time exercises on nearly every page to incite creativity and experiential imagination. I can definitely see myself Xeroxing these black and white pages so I can actually utilize these activities, a catalyst for creative expression that rarely swings both ways from an independent comic book. Campbell's The Train Was Bang on Time, measuring 8.5" x 6", is a "graphical narrative" by First Second Books, and this little freebie is a whopping third of the original publication's story -- that's a lot to get for free. Fans of Campbell's work will enjoy this piece, but I couldn't get into it completely; its Victorian era tale of the mystery behind a train's untimely explosion was ironically too "period" for the hours I had to consume these issues today. I couldn't afford a trip back in time, especially when those webcomic teasers barely existed in the present. Nevertheless, I'd highly recommend both of these minuscule volumes, if only to expose those superhero-centrics of what else comics can really do.
Like yesterday, I balanced today's reading experience with a few "control" issues, specifically Wahoo Morris #1 by Too Hip Gotta Go Graphics and Love and Capes #4 by Maerkle Press. Both full issue length stories coincidentally boasted a romantic theme, the former via the players in a rock band and the latter via a thinly veiled Superman satire. In Wahoo Morris, two players in a band by that peculiar name fall for each other but don't know how to handle their feelings; billed as "the next Strangers in Paradise" by Comic Shop News, Wahoo is an emo soap opera with true potential for a female fanbase, yet creator Craig Taillefer seems to incorporate some foreshadowing of a supernatural subtext, as well. Love and Capes is unashamedly supernatural, as the Crusader wallows in a subdued self-pity as the success of the Arachnerd's biopic seems to overshadow his ten year anniversary with the Liberty League, until his intuitive girlfriend throws him a surprise party and makes everything okay. The pace of this issue perplexed me; each page contained an eight panel grid, with a scene or gag change every four panels (so two per page), so I wondered if this series had initially been a webcomic in such an individual format. Creator Thomas F. Zahler's "How a Page is Created" back-up feature would discredit that assumption, however, implying that he simply sought that momentum for either comedic or situational value. Though choppy and reminiscent of what I had experienced with those webcomic samplers throughout the day, the story was sequential enough for me actually to enjoy it. If only we geeks' love affair with comics could be that easy . . .
Yesterday, I read six comics and experienced twelve different stories. Today I read seven issues and experienced fifty-two different stories, if only for a page or so each. So, you'll pardon my analogy to radio static. I suppose the only way to gauge the success of this venture is to revisit the material in a couple of days and see which I want to pursue further, either on-line or at my local comic shop. Until then, I'm turning my proverbial radio off. A little silence will do me some good.