Sunday, May 13, 2007

Choose Your Weapon Sampler: FCBD Exposed! Conclusion

Choose Your Weapon Sampler, February 2007, TokyoPop
various contributors

Although many Free Comic Book Day editorials in the past have mused about the rarity of free things in today's society, "the free sample" is an often overlooked but most definitely common marketing tool in almost every avenue of sales, that, theoretically, critical consumers could acquire something for free every day if they wanted! Just this evening, I frequented my local Cold Stone Creamery and witnessed many customers tasting a free sample of some new, mysterious flavor; further, consider the free samples of perfumes in magazines, of hygiene products in the mail, of music or video on the Internet, of Hot Pocket bites at CostCo. So, what sets Free Comic Book Day apart from these other examples? Well, simply put, a free comic book is an unique opportunity to experience sequential, visual storytelling, which ideally results in a feeling of intimate interaction with its creators and/or a fulfilling sense of entertainment. While most free things are merely consumed in the hopes that you'd pay money for more, a comic book, like any piece of art, is an interactive experience that longs elicit money, yes, but also an emotional investment. Okay, maybe that wasn't simply put, but I hope it distinguishes today's Choose Your Weapon TokyoPop sampler from, say, a piece of orange chicken on a toothpick at the food court.

Not that orange chicken hasn't warranted an emotional commitment from me before . . .

. . . but when you finish a plate of orange chicken, you can't eat that same plate again. You'd need to order a new helping, with no guarantee that the consumption experience would be as fulfilling as the first. With a comic book, one could read its every word, visually analyze every panel, yet presumably revisit the same material later and experience something new, an emotional reaction one hadn't experienced during the initial read. See, though most mainstream comics are perceived to be the illustrative equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie, complete with a minimal amount of character development yet plenty of explosive action-packed pacing, characters like Batman and Spider-man have become so ingrained in our culture that one cannot help but confess a commitment to them. Further, up-and-coming comic book companies are desperately attempting to establish a similar connection, and many, through dynamic writing and artistry, are succeeding. The comic book is a comprehensive experience, something that transcend its corporate identity if given the chance, not to mention, age and culture . . . but that part is up to us.

In that regard, interestingly, TokyoPop's Choose Your Weapon sampler was the only real international offering during Free Comic Book Day (unless the Virgin Comics issue, which I've yet to acquire, boasted some Indian fare, as the company has in the past) and, though the manga influence has undeniably permeated American comics, was the only authentic source of manga for a potentially widespread mainstream audience. In all of my years reading comics, the manga subgenre has always impressed me as the most intimidating, with each multi-volumed title so mired in its own history that I really wouldn't know where to begin. (I wonder how many folks feel that way about, say, Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men?) Further, the manga style has such a distinctly visual identity, that as much as I love to look at it, I wonder if I could ever truly accept it. If I did, I'm afraid I wouldn't appreciate its uniqueness anymore.

Though, at the risk of confessing my American ignorance, most manga series look very similar to me, hence my hesitation to pick up any one series. Even in this Choose Your Weapon sampler, the five excerpts struck me as very parallel in some regards: three of them asserted some stained male/female relationship, and four of them were driven by some supernatural catalyst. The usual dose of monsters and robots were implemented, through high-end, melodramatic action, with a touch of adolescent awkwardness and anger to fuel the characters' motivations. Of the five stories, my favorites were the first two; in Archlord, a maiden's journey through the forest is almost ended by a ferocious deer, until a hard-headed traveler takes the beast down, then uses his "heart of fire" powers to roast a similarly rampaging boar. In Gyakushu!, a mummified hero (he looks like the Unknown Soldier) stands off with a madman holding a kid hostage, and though this chapter was void of much movement, I particularly liked Dan Hipp's style, co-creator of The Amazing Joy Buzzards. If I did look up any manga series, I'd pursue this one, only because of this connection to Western comics, a proverbial safety blanket for the comfortable reader like me. While FCBD is primarily intended to attract new readers through irresistible frugality, who said it couldn't open the minds of established readers like me?

Ah, finally, the last FCBD issue I read was the Keenspot spotlight, an intimidating 104 pages long! Though not as choppy as the other Internet comic samplers I read last week, many of these segments were just as befuddling to me as the TokyoPop material. Indeed, cyber comics have become a subgenre all on their own, with their own unique standards of illustrative excellence and/or introspective storytelling. Unfortunately, since the web is open for everyone, said standards are that there really isn't any, and, frankly, many webcomics are really just real time opportunities for us to watch an artist develop his skills . . . and we get to see the bumpy parts. While few of Keenspot's shorts really grabbed, a few of their ads for the series that weren't featured captured my interest, like Bradley Star. Keenspot shared its pages as a flipbook with WickedPowered, which was a highly entertaining romp into adolescent awkwardness and time travel. One part Neo, one part John Conner from Terminator, Wiley is the future creator of a global laser corporation that apparently ushers peace to the planet, until an alien invasion force get the bright idea to attack his younger self -- who ends up conveniently protected by an affirmative action influenced Justice League rip off (I will say that Macho Hombre is a funny He-Man spoof) and, most notably, three hot superpowered chicks. Again, while I've avoided webcomics until now, Free Comic Book Day may be responsible for my spending even more time on the computer. Er . . . thanks?

So, I . . . did it. Forty-one comics in a week and a day. A nine part crossover between A Comic A Day and Geek in the City unlike anything I've ever accomplished before. The question is, did I learn anything about this medium I so adore? Well, I don't know if this was an educational experience, so much as a reaffirming one. While my historical analysis of comics has always accredited its ever darkening subject matter with the parallel maturity of its readership, I've always retaining a fondness for the superhero material I enjoyed as a kid, thus, my "evolving tastes" would be better described as "adapting," therefore not shucking off the old but simply incorporating it into my newer tastes, too. Look at the diversity of titles offered last Saturday, Free Comic Book Day. Spidey alongside Owly . . . Dark Horse alongside Whiteout . . . we can only assume that next year's menu will be just as rife with variety!

Thank goodness it only comes once a year! After a week's worth of reviews, I'm just plain full.

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