Image is publishing two books that are vying for the crown of best computer-aided comic imagery: J.U.D.G.E. and THE GEAR STATION. The former was Greg Horn's first attempt and came out a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't very good. Heck, it was a mess.
The latter is the brainchild of Dan Fraga and premiered last week. It's using the computer in a different way than J.U.D.G.E. Fraga is creating something along the lines of an animated cartoon, using CGI to put in the backgrounds and traditional pen and ink for the characters in the foreground. It's no secret that most artists hate to draw backgrounds. If something like this were to break through, there would be plenty more lining up behind him to give it a shot.
This issue has its ups and downs, but I think the result is more positive than negative. For starters, Fraga doesn't cram the book with talking heads. Even when the situation calls for two characters chatting, he varies his angle and his camera distance. After all, the backgrounds are already drawn in by the computer and are part of the draw of the comic, right? It's almost as if having the CGI forced Fraga into creative uses of it, and as such improved his storytelling. It's interesting to see. On the other hand, there's one or two bits of forced blending between CGI and pen-and-ink. The early establishing shot of the Carter homestead includes some awkward-looking animals drawn over the background. They end up jumping out too much and looking painfully flat in comparison.
The next problem that would seem to come from this production is in the coloring. Do you keep the characters and their backgrounds as differentiated as possible, or do you try to blend them in? I think this books handles that question nicely. There are a couple of cases where hand-drawn characters should probably have been colored slightly darker to sit further back in the background, but the effect overall is nice. The characters belong in the world, yet they don't blend in. They stand out the way an animator's cel would stand out from the painted background.
But all this discussion leaves only the question of the story itself. While parts seem painfully ripped from the original STAR WARS movie, I think there's enough interesting-sounding stuff going on here. Unfortunately, there's a ton of explanatory captioning to introduce way too many elements of the story right off the bat. Characters come and go every couple of pages to get their time in the spotlight. In the middle of all this madness, though, there's a definite story developing. There are at least ten named characters - most of which not interrelated -- in these first 22 pages and about half as many locations.
Hopefully, that's all set up for us now and we can go straight for the story, which looks to be a mix of fantasy and kung fu. OK, I admit it - I could do without the kung fu and what little of it is in here seems uncomfortably shoehorned in, but maybe that will change.
So my final analysis on THE GEAR STATION: I'm not turned off. I'm willing to give it a few more issues to prove its worthiness.
(Oh, and Dan Fraga didn't do it all alone. Janak Alford - who has shown up recently at the Pipeline message board - is credited with "story" as well as "Computer FX" with Fraga. Ford Lytle Gilmore is the scripter. Comicraft does the lettering, and uses a godawful computer tech font for the omniscient narrator part. The pixellation is painfully evident. UGH)
The next entry in this computer-assisted comics blitz comes in June with THE RED STAR #1. It uses a new computerized coloring system to wrap textures around objects. It sounds not too dissimilar from the technique Disney used in its TARZAN movie. I saw some of the previews of the book last summer at the San Diego Con. (It was right next to Erik Larsen's booth.) The art was quite impressive. More info is available on their web site, www.theredstar.com.
I'm a huge 80s junkie. Loved the decade. Loved living my most early and formative years in it. Can remember just about every little detail you see in those "Children of the 1980s" e-mails that circulate around the Internet.
So when I opened up the first issue of GRENDEL: DEVIL'S LEGACY and took a look at the page designs, the backgrounds, and the fashions on the characters, I said to myself, "1986." Shades of MIAMI VICE. I checked the indicia: This series was originally printed in 1986. Damn, I'm good.
The Pander brothers, who look to have been influenced by Michael Golden, draw the book. I even sense a similarity to some work being done at the time by Jim Valentino. It's a stylistic thing, I guess.
I've not read any GRENDEL books before. This series looks cool and takes place early enough in the mythology that I don't feel I'm missing all that much, so I'm giving it a shot. This first issue introduces us to Christine Spar, a book editor with a son. She meets up with a Kabuki troupe and weirdness ensues. This issue just introduces us to the characters and sets things up. Grendel doesn't show up until the last page. It looks like it could be interesting.
Diana Schutz runs the letters column, and everything I've heard about her letters columns appears to be true. It's friendly, informative, good-natured, and interesting. It's nice to see someone put some care and effort into a letters column for a change.
SOME RANDOM WARREN ELLIS-RELATED COMMENTARY AND REVIEW
X-FORCE #102 is the first truly great issue of the Warren Ellis revamp so far. While I've enjoyed the others with some reservations, this one has a lot more going for it, and my reservations are just about nil. For starters, there's an actual story here. That story is complete in this issue. It serves to reset the team for the readers, show us what the character relationships are, and whet our appetites for more. Yes, there's also some teaser material for future plots. Ellis injects his sarcastic, almost mocking, humor into the story. The biggest laugh comes on the third page with Pete Wisdom explaining the reason for his newfound eye patch.