“Long Distance” #1 by Thom Zahler follows the genesis and development of a long distance romance between ad agency artist Carter Blue and scientist Lee Smith. It began as a TV script, and the sitcom influence can be seen in the emphasis on witty, back-and-forth dialogue and a realistic but static setting. The banter feels like it’s trying too hard at times but, overall, Zahler succeeds in establishing a light and sunny tone.
Zahler’s art is likewise upbeat and humorous. His facial expressions are strong, particularly for Lee and for Tim, Carter’s grumpy best friend. Exposition occurs through dialogue, and the transitions flow well. Zahler’s shifting monotone colors have just the right level of hue intensity, signaling the setting changes between Chicago and Columbus without stopping the story flow. Besides dialogue, Zahler weaves texts, e-mail and Twitter posts into the courtship. While these other narrative techniques feel contemporary, they come off as flatter than the dialogue. Every scene has forward movement, but the action feels slow at times because neither tension nor suspense build.
The first scene sets up a frame and flashback within an airport. The first scene of the flashback is charming and funny due to a hilariously manic kid in a Batman costume. Carter and Lee hit it off because of their mutual pop culture interests, but their chemistry is merely believable, not palpable. Throughout the issue, the reader is in the same position as their friends: privy to the romance, but not feeling it personally. Both Carter and Lee speak giddily and sincerely about their feelings, but there’s not enough of their inner world to prod the reader into caring deeply about them.
Carter and Lee get roughly equal panel time, and each also has one friend to confide in. They don’t go beyond likable stereotypes yet. Carter’s a nice guy and an artist, and Lee is smart and bold. Zahler has updated Lee from a less feminist-friendly former incarnation as a model in the sitcom script, but her profession doesn’t come off as a huge part of her personality yet, despite her amusing rant about bad Powerpoint presentations.
“Long Distance” #1 is a double-sized comic, but Carter and Lee don’t yet have enough character development for the reader to be deeply invested (instead of just curious) about the future of their relationship. Their anxieties and hopes are relatable, but normal — so normal as to be bland. While they are funny and flirtatious, their voices aren’t immediately distinctive enough to leave a strong impression. They don’t have sharp edges.
Characters reveal more of their true selves in conflict and crisis. Carter and Lee are two well-off young people with secure jobs and no kids. This isn’t to say that they can’t have any real problems, but that their inner life is unrevealed. Ergo, the reader’s impression of them and their romance is superficial so far. The romance itself will precipitate the true conflict in the story when their attachment deepens. The emotional ride will get rockier when they must start thinking about compromises and sacrifices. “Long Distance” #1 is a pleasant enough start, but the relationship will have to prove itself to both the couple and readers in the next issue.