Every day this month I'll be reviewing a different independent comic book, based on submissions from the creators of the comic books themselves.
The month begins with Gordon McAlpin's Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show Vol. 1, the first print collection of McAlpin's web comic about a group of employees at a movie theater in Illinois.
McAlpin created a brand new story for the collection set during the opening of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. After that, the book then features the first 102 Multiplex strips (plus character bios and some guest strips he had done for other web comics and some guest strips other web comic creators did featuring Multiplex characters).
Opening with the new material is an interesting decision. You see, the strip as a whole is now over five years old, and McAlpin has clearly grown as an artist since the strip began (and as a storyteller), so to open the book with a polished story featuring all these established characters and then follow that up with, "Oh yeah, now here are the strips that are not as good" is a bit disconcerting. But at the same time, chronologically it fits into the overall narrative (which certainly was McAlpin's intention) and I guess it makes sense to lead with your best material (especially when it is brand new material to those who already are reading the strip).
Anyhow, the comic mostly follows two young men, Kurt and Jason, who are best friends and the main protagonists, especially Jason, who has a bit more of a high brow taste in films than Kurt (although they do share a lot of the same guilty pleasures). The comics are topical, so reading topical strips about movies from five years ago can be a bit strange at times, but really, McAlpin tends to give you enough context in the strip itself that you can understand the joke even if you barely remember the film that is being mocked. Also, after awhile, the strip began to move more into the lives of the employees than simply making fun of movies.
A great deal of the humor in the strip is derived from the universal problems that happen while working in retail.
Here's one of Multiplex's most popular strips...
Here's a really good movie-related gag...
As you can see, the art in the comic is not really what you're coming for - it is the jokes and the character interactions, and McAlpin does a good job developing the characters (which is especially impressive seeing as how he depicts a Multiplex the way it really is, with a ton of different workers coming and going).
For pretty much the entire first collection, there's only one black cast member, and his name is Franklin...
And that, according to the new commentart by McAlpin that accompanies each strip, was a total coincidence. How weird is it to have one black cast member in your comic strip and have his name be Franklin, and also have him being named Franklin be a total coincidence? That's really strange (I believe that it is a coincidence, of course, just saying it is a really weird coincidence).
The collection is put together very well - it is extremely professional-looking, and it is a hefty piece of material. Even if you were familiar with the web comic, there's a bunch of new material here to make it worth you buying (the commentaries, for one).
Having the character bios come in the back of the book was another interesting decision. By the time we get to them, we already have read so much about the characters featured that we really don't NEED a bio anymore. The bios (or some sort of set-up for the main characters) probably would have been more helpful earlier in the book, especially right before a new comic book story that throws you into things in medias res.
Still, the fact that by the time you get to the bios you can pretty much write them yourself says a lot about how much characterization McAlpin pumps into the main characters in the story. I especially like how McAlpin, whose style is not the most detailed, still manages to tell a story well, including beats that turns solely on a character's expression.
If you're a fan of stories with a lot of character interaction, then this volume should hold interest to you. If you're interested in modern movies and/or stories about retail workers, than you should REALLY be interested in this collection!