I edit a college weekly newspaper, and as part of a new comics section I started, I also introduced a column, "Not Your Daddy's Comics." My first article is this review of Flight. Hopefully it'll send a handful of readers your way. Thanks for putting together such a great book!
Take Flight (but be sure to pay for it, first)
Anyone who is at all interested in the comic-book industry will quickly learn a hard lesson: You can be creative, or you can make money. Within the mainstream publishers, the ones that can pay close to a living wage, comics are made on an assembly line, with one person writing, one person drawing, one person inking, etc. The result is often visually beautiful, but otherwise empty. There is little room for any writer or artist, let alone the young and unproven, to stretch their artistic imagination; the publisher is only interested in what sells.
On the other hand are the many independent publishers, or the option of self-publishing. Here you are free to be both writer and artist, if you like, and you’re free to experiment, to push the boundaries of comics as an art. Unfortunately, most indy publishers can’t afford color or slick paper, and if your work doesn’t sell well they can’t pay you much. While there have been a handful of standout successes, you’re much more likely to starve to death.
So how can Flight possibly exist? This 208-page, full-color anthology, published by Image (one of the biggest publishers next to DC and Marvel), collects the work of 21 up-and-coming comics creators. Most have never been published in print before. Several are still finishing college. Their average age is 24. When you see their work, you will feel lazy and unaccomplished. Personally, I cried.
Flight can only be described as a beautiful book. The art, ranging from clean, crisp animation-like shading to rough, expressive brushwork, is practically flawless throughout. These are artists with a keen sense of color, and they use both digital and traditional media with subtle mastery.
What really amazes, though, is the quality of storytelling. There are a few fantasy worlds and sci-fi settings, certainly, but for the most part these are stories about human hopes, wishes, and fears. In Dylan Meconis’ and Bill Mudron’s “All Time Low,” a mother tries to overcome her daughter’s phobia of heights. Neil Babra’s “Taj Mahal” deals with an Indian man’s anxiety towards the culture of his homeland. Catia Chien’s “Tumbleweed” discusses… well, I still haven’t figured that one out, but it’s still very interesting.
“Faith,” by Erica Moen (and colored by Hope Larson) stands out as more of a visual essay. The protagonist begins by looking up at the sky, then frowning. “I wish I believed in God,” reads the caption. Through a series of visual metaphors, her lack of faith and desire for it is explored with heart-touching emotion. Moen isn’t afraid to leave an entire page mostly blank, except for one small figure in the corner, to evoke a sense of loneliness, or to fill a page with vibrant color after several pages of black and gray.
Another particularly interesting story is “I Wish…” by Vera Brosgol. For you English majors out there, this is a piece of “Magical Realism,” in which the extraordinary is handled in a very mundane, realistic manner. In this case, a young woman has grown wings overnight, triggering her memories of childhood hopes and fantasies. Brosgol’s comic timing is excellent, as is her characterization through both dialogue and facial expression. The ending is left open, letting the reader decide whether the woman dared to attempt flight, or let her dreams die.
Overall, Flight is a groundbreaking work on many levels. It defies all the set rules of the often jaded comics community; it’s like a high-school kid getting drafted into the NBA, or Ralph Nader actually winning an election. Many of its stories also defy preconceived notions about comics’ “worth” as art or literature. These creators take their medium seriously. After reading their work, it’s hard to imagine why anyone wouldn’t.