by Alec Berry
Even though I sort of slammed Wild Children, I do respect Ales Kot quite a bit. He's genuine, and his comics, while sometimes a little heavy handed, work against stagnation and make an effort to be a little more. It's arguable he wears his influences on his sleeve, but it seems he wants you to know where he's coming from rather than try to hide it. There's a certain philosophy at work that encourages the spread of art and ideas, and it would go against such philosophy to obscure the inspirations behind the writer.
Even in terms of criticism, Kot isn't afraid to engage. I've negativity reviewed his work before, but Kot, unlike a number of creators, knew how to handle it and was happy to discuss with his reader. He wants to hear different perspectives and improve. That's certainly a nice quality in a world where Rags Morales does this.
Whether the comics are perfect or not - whether they're the work of a prodigy - I don't know if it matters because the effort, attitude and showmanship put in by Kot is something comics as an industry needs more of. He's trying, and interestingly so, while being pretty humble and open to his audience. That's refreshing, and refreshing is certainly something Kot wants to be.
That said, this is a review and not a personal recommendation, so I should write about his new comic book.
Change #1 has been the topic of discussion, lately. There a more interviews with Kot and Jeske than I can count. I was lucky enough to be sent a preview copy a few weeks ago, but oddly enough I still just read it yesterday like the rest of you. My one chance to be cool and tweet some "Oh, hey, you should totally buy Change when it comes out. I just read it. Pretty cool" tweet was blown, but I'm not sure I was ever destined to be one of the cool kids, anyway. That said, I did enjoy this comic book. From form to attitude, it's a project I'd describe as hyper. But first, I want to speak of Morgan Jeske.
I'm primarily familiar with Jeske from Twitter, but recently I've been investigating his work as a comics artist, both through interviews and his work at Studygroup with a comic titled Disappearing Town. His styles' been compared to the likes of Paul Pope and Moebius, and I find the comparisons apt. Though, aside from style, I've particularity been taken away by Jeske's illustration of character and emotion and how he never seems to overlook these small, subtle details while in the face of large science fiction backgrounds or havoc-like think pieces. Jeske places characters first, and he assures to craft them rather than treat them like paper dolls and apply them to settings - a major difference from much of the visual treatment done in mainstream comics. It's a strength of this artist, and hopefully readers will not overlook it for the more flashy details that are style.
The style, though, is very nice and "ugly" as Duncan of the Mindless Ones has been describing it. Jeske clearly resembles artists like Pope, but he's making it work for him without riffing too hard on a particular influence. Where Pope uses line to really enforce texture, Jeske allows for a little more space in the drawings. It seems to be a trait he's picked up from Brandon Graham, but it gives his settings and figures a bit of an unspoken underside and contrasts against some of the tight line art of Pope. Disappearing Town shows this very well, especially with the grey tones used, highlighting the line art, transfixing the light and popping the contrasting blacks.
Change shows us a bit of a tighter Jeske, though with still some of the familiar traits. Against the very liquid page design of Disappearing Town, Change asks the artist to compartmentalize for story purposes, so we're looking at busier pages, but Jeske never overloads the senses. They function, although in a few of the sequences where Jeske fragments the actions scenes - most notably on page 18 - the reading speed increases and Jeske manages to break past function. Visually, these are the most enthralling moments in the issue, but overall there's nothing uninteresting about his layouts. Viewing the work as a PDF probably holds some of it back, but there's a clear focus on fragmenting and splicing imagery to help achieve Kot's vision of a hyper mash-up narrative. In some sense, there's a balance brought with Jeske, almost taming the wild fury of Kot's script.
I find him well-thought by the sight of these pages. This is a considerate artist who's serving the story, but from some of that service I do find Jeske a tad bit constrained. This is more a result of reading Disappearing Town than the actual work in Change, possibly, but because of the demands of the story, I find Jeske a little trapped into ensuring the delivery of Kot's idea versus actually putting much of himself into the work.
At the end of the day, this is an Ales Kot comic book.
Unlike Wild Children, Change offers a plot with characters and a mix of scenes. This isn't a lecture but instead an adventure story, marking a shift of gears for the young author. But while a tad more traditional, it's not exactly bland. I've used the word "hyper" to describe this comic, and I stick to it. Kot's mashing a number of things into one experience, offering a bit of post-modernism for your reading enjoyment. In fact, aside from being based in Los Angeles, Change really reminds me of Karen Tei Yamashita's novel The Tropic of Orange, which too utilizes a number of narrators, fantastical elements and an apocalyptic undertone to execute a tone of speed and inevitable chaos. Both books also approach L.A. with the same sense of beauty and grime. Not to say Kot has hijacked another work; I just find it interesting how two works centered on L.A. could be so similar, but maybe that suggests just how right Kot is in his observations.
A clear understanding of what Change is hasn't been nailed down, but the first issue gives enough information to engage a reader as well as suggest a tone and attitude. Attitude is really what sells this comic book. It's brash and maybe a bit too confident, but its cocksureness presents a kind of charm that you don't exactly want to ignore. It's exciting, in a sense, and I like that Kot really isn't afraid to push his voice and sometimes overpower the narrative. Granted, the narrative needs to be serviced, but the voice, even though it may flaw the story, connects the reader to a human element and makes the read a little more personable even when the script is so violently quick and somewhat overwhelming. Kot's voice almost becomes a hand to lead you through the journey.
I'm not sure how Change will end up, but I know I'll at least be engaged and entertained on some level. That's more than can be said for a number of mainstream comic books, and I think Kot would at least be happy with that.