Thursday, November 02, 2006

Paradigm #1

Paradigm #1, September 2002, Image Comics
creators: Matthew Cashel & Jeremy Haun with Elizabeth Jacobson
letterer: Ed Lavallee

Paradigm is another independent effort adopted by Image Comics in the early twenty-first century, an extension of the company’s painfully transparent attempt to recruit as many readers as possible by appealing to the cult comics crowd. See, let me tell you a secret: unlike the good old days, when commercial artists stumbled into the comic book industry and lending their talents as a veritable charity to the medium, inadvertently shaping the face and integrity of the market as a whole, today’s comic book artists burst into the field like an eager garage band, paying homage to their forefathers by making as much noise as they possibly can. Usually, they’re their own biggest fans. Rather than ease their way into the spotlight, they launch their own self-publishing company, dubbing themselves a beacon to desperate fanboys everywhere. Desperate fanboys like them. They create a new, oftentimes unnecessary layer of reality about the industry. This is my impression of Paradigm, in more ways than one.

I was excited to read Paradigm #1, because the issue is surprisingly weighty for a standard newsstand edition. This issue follows two prominent characters – Chris, a twenty-something that comes out of his shell and loses his grip on reality when his girlfriend unexpectedly shoots a mugger before he can shoot them, and Andrew, a lonely police officer investigating a mysterious murder. Something about their lives is creating a shift in reality that makes animals talk and peculiar pubs appear, and although this first issue offers very little explanation (it’s just the first issue, after all), the characters’ respective dialogues firmly establish their personalities and relationships. Jeremy Haun’s high contrast black and white art makes some characters and panels indecipherable, like during Chris and his friend’s uber-cool, snappy repartee. Had Chris not been wearing a cross-striped shirt, I wouldn’t know him from his sophomoric buddy, and in some instances, the word balloons are a bit too cluttered for my liking. In another instance, Andrew punches a trigger-happy cop, but I didn’t realize he dealt the blow until I perused the issue again. Paradigm needs to pull the camera back, both story-wise and artistically, to make things a little clearer. The issue is not only lengthy, but dense.

As much as I enjoyed the complexitiess of Cashel’s script, I was turned off by the creators’ supplemental material, a collection of grand-standing essays, lettercol banter, and lists of favorite media (the books, CDs, etc. that they like). It’s type-ridden and text-intensive, not that this blog is flawless, but I wonder when the 12-point pats of the back became commonplace for independent comic book efforts. (Could Stan’s Soapbox have inspired this phenomenon?) As a reader, yes, I’m interested in the creators behind the pages, but honestly, I don’t need to read about their devotion to The X-Files. Now, one fan letter requested a compilation of media that inspired the complexities of Paradigm, which is an interested enough inquiry that warrants a peek into the creators’ cultural tastes, but a similar, pseudo autobiographical list afterward is way too much. Think about Ernest Hemingway a bit. Does knowing that he ate the end of a shotgun affect the way you read The Old Man and the Sea? The parallel here isn’t as dire (or lethal), but if you pull the curtain back too far, your eyes drift from the floating head to the crippled man behind the curtain. In other words, the comic book should be about the comic book, and the artists should speak through the work itself.

I don’t intend to sound heartless or crude, and I confess a fond appreciation for supplemental material, even an author’s expository, but my criticism is that Paradigm goes too far away from its intended paranormal material. A commentary-ridden sketchbook would have been very effective, or some creatively crafted police reports from Andrew’s desk, an actual, additional work of fiction to embellish the Paradigm world. Romita’s sketchbook in The Gray Area is a good example, or the short fiction offered at the end of Supernatural Freak Machine. Seems to me, the stuff they offered in print would find a more comfortable home on-line, in a blog that dedicated fans can follow on a frequent basis. As is, Paradigm is a paradox . . . with one layer of reality too many. If Image wants to attract a diverse comics crowd, the spotlight should remain steadfastly on the comics themselves. We’ve learned the hard way, if you become attached to any one creative team, your attachment to any one title just won’t last very long.

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