Friday, September 21, 2012

Comics Love - Supermassive Black Hole A* by Ben Chamberlain!

I am a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to comics.  Sure, I've always enjoyed reading "the funny papers", and I have always had a major respect for comic book artists and the artwork they draw, as well as their varying views on the world and how that comes out in their art.  But to be honest, I could never be bothered to pay money to collect comic books, in part because my big hobbies for so many years have been music and video games.  Movies and TV would be next on the list, followed by anything technology.  Now, all those can become expensive hobbies, so when you put all of them together, it becomes a bit overwhelming.  I liken it to a phrase a friend of mine coined in relation to the primarily-women's hobby of crafting and scrap-booking.  He referred to it as "the money-sucking cult".  I can't say I disagree, but then I have sunk literally thousands of dollars into my CD, vinyl album, video game, and DVD collections over the last 15-20 years, so when my wife comes home with some new stamps, crafting paper, jewelry-making supplies and beads, etc. I just sigh and realize that I am just as guilty of indulging my own expensive hobbies.

About 2 years ago, however, I decided to finally "take the plunge" where comics were concerned by purchasing nearly every issue (at the time) of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book series for Season 8.  For the uninitiated, the TV show (my favorite of all time) ended after 7 seasons, but creator Joss Whedon carried it on via the ink and print medium, and because he was involved and it was considered "canon", I felt I could no longer hold off and went for it.  About $70 later I had a large stack of comics that I read through quickly and marveled at the artwork, enjoyed the witty Whedon dialogue, and was impressed by just how accurately this medium could reflect what I had come to love so much about the TV show, minus the moving pictures and audible speech.  After that, I went back and collected as any of the "V" comic books I could find (yes, based on the short-lived "V" TV series from the 80s) as well as the 2nd Krull comic (I have the first one around this house somewhere...) and the first couple issues of the Mega Man comic, as detailed here.  So while I can't consider myself a "hardcore" collector at this point, I must say I'm enjoying this new collection and this medium in general.

Something that has developed over the last several years has been the proliferation of webcomics, a new trend whereby artists either put their comics online for free, or support their art via advertising on their websites, etc.  Most webcomics I've read are the funny kind, reflecting perhaps more crass or open-ended versions of what we read in the daily newspaper.  However, some are more expansive works, challenging the boundaries of what comics are or can be.  This could be either via a complex storyline, something unique with the art, or just the presentation and the way the comic comes across.  Such is the case with a recent discovery I made called Supermassive Black Hole A* (or just A* for short).  This particular work is by an artist I have been heretofore unfamiliar with, named Ben Chamberlain.

Ben takes on the world of science fiction, which is nothing new for comics.  However, the thing I really like about his work here with A* is that Ben blends a sort of mildly retro science fiction aesthetic with a minimalist approach in the art  and dialogue.  The artwork in the series reflects an interesting kind of style that, if I had to describe in one sentence, would be a sort of "Aeon Flux noir".  That's not a fitting description by any stretch, but the characters and figures do have that sort of Aeon Flux, or Heavy Metal motion picture feel about them, with overtly long, lanky figures contrasting with short, stout, stumpy figures with exaggerated features.  It's a fitting design concept, given the storyline that the comic is telling.  The other thing I like is the fact that it's all black and white.  I do like my comics in color whenever possible, but really, A* NEEDS to be devoid of color, because of the story it's telling, the inherent darkness in the plot, and just the overall presentations begs for that approach.  Impressive stuff, and something I look forward to seeing as the work develops.

You only wish you could draw something this cool.

The story thus far is also interesting and engaging.  I won't get too detailed here, so as not to spoil the fun for anyone who might be intrigued at this point, but suffice to say, it will suck you in and leave you wanting more.  Had I discovered the comic when it first debuted, I might have been less prone to checking out each "slide" individually, but going through the first couple chapters, I was drawn in by the art style, engaging characters, and overall presentation.  Once you're into the story quite a ways, it throws you for a complete loop.  What you think you've been reading up to that point in the story, and where you believe the story is headed?  You're completely wrong, unless you have keener observatory skills than I.  That's all I can say without ruining the surprise, but trust me, you won't want me to.  At any rate, the semi-gritty storyline has a sort of quiet, Blade Runner like unease about it that should please fans of science fiction that has more to it than the generic comic book fare.  Ben's description of "hard sci-fi webcomic" is accurate, so be aware that there is coarse language, for those of you squeamish about such things.

As of this writing, the comic is in the 17th episode/chapter, which is not yet complete.  For those wanting to check out the web comic, I would highly encourage they start from the very beginning.  You'll get a better sense of the storyline and get to watch it develop like I did, and you'll also get to see the progression in the quality of the artwork and the level of detail included in the artwork, even within the framework of this somewhat minimalist approach.  It works well, and I think with the continuous improvement in artwork and detail, this webcomic could be a major head-turner in the field.  I look forward to watching this series continue to grow and see how the story plays out.  Unfortunately, this series is so young that there isn't much in the way of merchandise you can buy, though Ben does sell signed sketches and prints.  I am hoping once he has enough of the story compiled he'll do a "trade paperback" style release so we can buy it in print.  You can even get t-shirts, how cool is that?  So what are you waiting for, go read it!?  If you're a fan of science fiction, I think you'll be glad you did.

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