A review a day: <I>Americans UK</i> #1-3

More self-published craziness! When will it stop?!?!?!?

Americans UK is an odd comic by Jef UK and Paul Ciaravino. The three issues I have are priced at 2, 4, and 3 dollars, respectively, just to fuck with you, presumably, but you can find some of this for free at the Americans UK web site. This is a crudely drawn and occasionally crudely written comic, as many wildly independent books are. I don't love it, but I'll tell you why it's somewhat charming.

Americans UK is a rock band (a real one - Jef was nice enough to send me their CD with the comic) and in the book, two of their members are killed in the first couple of pages. Jef, the lead singer, survives, and discovers that JTR3, the drummer, is actually ... a robot from the future.

Why the hell not? JTR3 explains, in the only part of the book that really annoys me, that in the future, rock music has gone "terribly lame" due to a "pop-musician-terrorist" named Stang figuring out a way to create boring music that turns the entire population docile. Robots in the future discovered Americans UK and realized that if the band had survived, they could have saved the world from Stang. JTR3 explains that they need to solve the murder of the two bandmates, and the adventure begins! There are two problems with this set-up, one obvious and universal and one more personal. One, if you think this plot sounds a bit familiar, it's probably because Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure did it 20 years ago. Bill and Ted's, of course, is one of the genius comedic movies of all time, and while I have no problem if you want to make reference to it in your comic book ("It's your mom, dude!"), stealing the general plot is more problematic. But plots are often stolen, and if the creators can make it work, more power to them. The other problem I have with the plot is the same problem I always have with people proclaiming that something "cool" has been taken away. Americans UK is so cool it's going to save the world? Really? All music is "lame" in the future? I'm sure if some people went back in time right now to the 1960s, they'd tell the Beatles and the Stones that all music is "lame" in 2009. Would young Mick Jagger really like to see what old Mick Jagger is today? Of course not, but that's what life is. I doubt if I'm cool - my second-favorite band ever is ABBA, for crying out loud - but even if I was, would I really go around talking about how lame everything else is? Is that what cool really is? Maybe the people in the future just really like lame music, robot dude! Get over it!*

Anyway, after that, we move on, as JTR needs to return to the future, get more energy and supplies, and then rescue the band. Sounds simple.

In issue #2 we meet a villain, and in issue #3 we meet THE villain, Stang, who sends a big ol' evil robot to break up an impromptu concert that Jef and JTR put on for the cool robots of the future. Issue #2 also has a short story called "I, Apeman," which is also an EP that you can download at their site. It's all about multi-media, people!

I can't really recommend the comic, not because of the "cool" thing, but because so far, it's a bit of a mess. Jef is the only character who's interesting, and that's only when he reaches the future and is reacting to all the weird stuff he sees. The robots - even the hot chick robot - are kind of bland, as are the villains. The plot could work, but the story hasn't really kicked in yet, so it's difficult to suss out where it's going and whether Jef is a good enough writer to pull it off. There are a few humorous moments, to be sure (on the very first page, the two doomed bandmates are impressed they played the entire set in under 25 minutes, which made me smile, and there's a cameo by a DC and a Marvel character which is quite funny), but it's very hard to get a sense of anything long term. Nothing about the story so far wows me (the story, it should be noted, runs 37 pages so far), and I have no idea if it will.

As I wrote above, Ciaravino's art is very rough, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. His perspective is often skewed and his figures are awkward, but he does have some nice page designs and each issue is better than the last, which is always good to see. He actually does a pretty decent job with the world of the future (we don't see much of it, but what we do see is interesting) and the final scene in the seedy robot bar works pretty well. There's nothing amazing about the art, but it's not totally embarrassing, either.

The reason I don't completely dismiss this book is because, unlike some wildly independent books, there's a real sense of fun here. Some of the rough books I read are trying too hard to be "cool" and we get an endless procession of the latest trendy thing in comics.

Sure, this book has robots from the future, but Jef UK doesn't go nuts with, say, pirates. Or lemurs. He sticks with robots and has a blast with them. Both the writing and the art have good energy to them and helps overshadow the book's deficiencies. I can't say I like the comic, but I do admire the joy it seems like the creators had in making it. That goes some way for me. And you can check it out at the web site, where you can make up your own mind!

* I went to the first Lollapalooza and saw Anthrax and Public Enemy play together once. I also saw a triple bill of Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and Red Hot Chili Peppers at Penn State in 1991, before the first two bands really blew up. Does that make me cool? On the other hand, I never saw the Gorilla Biscuits or GG Allin or Gwar live, like a few of my friends. Dang.

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