Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The newest offering from AiT/PlanetLar is Proof of Concept, which is a collection of story pitches, teasers if you will, all written by publisher Larry Young and illustrated by an assortment of artists, none of which are exactly household names- yet. For a few months there, Young would post a script sample on a the Comics World News website, and invite all comers to draw it. He would then pick the best renditions and promised to publish them, and here's the result. Not exactly a scenario which inspires a lot of anticipation, because tryout books are usually hit-or-miss at best; but this is one of the most enjoyable reads of the young year.

One reason why is that these are pretty damn good high-concept story ideas. When it comes to pitching scripts, Larry Young is the Randy Johnson of comics writing (but he's better behaved with the press). The stories run the gamut from sci-fi to Serling-ish fantasy to broad social satire, no pun intended, and none of them are dull. The artists mostly do a fine job with the material, some better than others. I'll run each story down one at a time:

"Hemogoblin", the lead story, is probably my favorite. Nicely drawn by one Damian Couceiro, whose style reminds me of Michael Lark (a lot) and Chris Sprouse (a little), and the concept has a smartly futuristic Omega Man-ish feel.

"Zombie Dinosaur" is next, and features one of those head-smacking "Why didn't I think of that" premises: dinosaurs revived as zombies. It's action-thriller sci-fi fun, and reminiscent of an early issue of Planetary. The art, by Stephen Sanders and inked by Jeff Johns is a little stiff, and Sanders/Johns do better by the dinos that the people, but it was passable overall. I could easily see this as a big-budget film.

"The Camera" is a Serling-esque tale of a group of kids who discover a space warp or a dimensional portal or something, which looks exactly like a good-size black circle floating in the air. Like Young says in the introduction, Quantum Leap meets Stand By Me, and I might add "The Sea of Holes sequence from Yellow Submarine" to the tagline. I wasn't so crazy about Paul Tucker's art; it's sloppy and crude, and often badly proportioned. Of course, I guess that's his style or his point- it's certainly got that Indie ethos, but it just didn't push the right buttons in my head.

"For The Time Being" could be Star Trek (or, again, Quantum Leap) as written by H.G. Wells. This was the first script I remember reading after I became aware of Young's CWN column; I actually considered giving it a shot myself, but as usual, I decided not to. Just as well, because Jeff Johns does a nice job of visualizing a demanding cosmic-themed script. Sometimes his compositions look a bit awkward, and I'm not 100% sure the art deco touches need to be there, but I hope to see more from that guy.

"Emancipating Lincoln" puts us right back in Twilight Zone territory as we are introduced to a planet populated by clones of Abraham Lincoln. Living as close as I do to Lincoln's birthplace, I suppose that makes my part of Kentucky holy land! Anyway, everything is fine on Abeworld when someone discovers a five dollar bill with the Great Emancipator's mug on it, and the mystery is afoot! It's a goofy idea, but it's done with a straight face, which completely gets it across. Artist John Flynn does a fine job; his style is harsh and angular, with a lot of choppy fat ink lines. Reminds me a bit of Becky Cloonan's work, it does.

Finally, the only complete story as well as the only one which has seen print before, "The Bod", about a young wannabe starlet who achieves Hollywood fame after becoming invisible. We get some topical circa 2001 references, the young lady finds out that the price she pays for her fame brings her more trouble than she bargained for, and we get a somewhat ambivalent ending, in that we're not sure what our heroine's future will be like, or that of her sister. The story trips a lot of my disbelief suspension alarms- I'm not so sure that someone of her celebrity status would ever have appeared on the Springer show or Judge Judy, but as satire it works OK. Artwise, it's fine- John Heebink has that very clean, very mainstream-friendly Jerry Ordway-ish style and I'm surprised that he isn't working for the Big Two right now.

Each story has a framing sequence, drawn by Kieron Dwyer, which features Young on the phone with his lawyer, discussing each of these story ideas, and those sequences are tons of fun. The more I see of Dwyer's art, the more I like.

So, as Young asks, which ones do I want to see more of? I wanna see more "Hemogoblin", could live with more "Zombie Dinosaur" or "Time Being", and could take or leave the rest. Really, my biggest complaint is that except for "The Bod", all the stories end abruptly, and leave the reader hanging! Aw, I kid. While not exactly what you could call a completely satisfying reading experience, it's a testament to the enthusiasm and creativity of Larry Young, and a nice introduction to the likes of Couceiro and Johns (whom I think we'll hear more from). For the most part, I enjoyed Proof of Concept, and I think you will too- if you don't mind plunking down the $13 for a collection of excerpts. At least they're engaging excerpts.

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