Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Error Is In The Text: Material #1.

Ales Kot was kind to me at NYCC 2014. I believe that experience influences this review.

Mr. Kot has said he could write his new comic, Material, forever. I bought the first issue. I won't buy the second.

It's not that I want my money back, I felt entertained for a long enough duration of time that satisfies my desire for "THINGS THAT I MAY NOT HAVE SEEN" though a large amount of that entertainment was at the issue's expense.

It is my opinion that Mr. Kot's copious footnotes work against him, except in two instances that require the reader to know that footnotes exist and are to be expected. The footnotes condescend to the reader more often than they illuminate. (Throw 'em in the back, properly annotated, Mr. Kot, and you'll achieve your aims.) I'd argue they're not even footnotes, as there's no markers for them in the word balloons. It does not read as Mr. Kot being helpful or showing his work, it reads as Mr. Kot telling you he's very intelligent.

Wil Tempest's pencils in this issue are rough in the way that makes him the target of jokes, and deservedly so.* It is a terrible introduction to his work, and I heard this from people who have seen his art before and like him. His use of color and panel composition makes up for it. Mr. Tempest knows when to use a secondary color to highlight a particular character and to maintain the reader's eye. Which is good, because his backgrounds are abysmal. To be more charitable, Mr. Tempest has a strong grasp of storytelling, which is done no favors by his shoddy pencils.

There are four plots in Material, two of them worth following, and one of those is only if you squint.

-I'm from Chicago. The Horman Square story will probably be handled with care. It's also there that the most egregious "you have got to be fucking kidding me" footnote** appears. It concerns the abuse of a protestor.

-True to Wild Children, there is an incurious professor on a pedestal, ripe for an Ales Kot monologue to knock him off. His interlocutor this time around is a stretch even within the writer's bibliography.

-There is a plot which appears to be an excuse for Mr. Kot to tell the reader that he has seen 8 1/2 and Contempt.*** It contains a scene so flimsy it must be lampshaded. Watch 8 1/2 instead. ****, *****, ******, ********, *********

-The Guantanamo Bay plot resonated with me. It suggests a problem that is difficult to talk about and the dangers to the problem's resolution many. It is the strongest of the plots and the one that involves actual characters and not ambulatory vehicles for Mr. Kot's monologues.

I don't have much to say about the Material #1 that I haven't said about Wild Children. Mr. Kot remains precocious and reaches beyond his grasp. To finish the Warren Ellis line, good, that's how you grow.

There is an essay by Fiona Duncan in the back which earnestly extols the virtues of Franco Berardi (don't worry, the Wikipedia link is here: while unintentionally highlighting the low quality ********** of Mr. Tempest's pencils. In praise of the comic she's writing in, she says, "The students, save for the one who walk outs, are a sketchy mess." (The error is in the text, I've reproduced it.) Which is true for precisely one panel. Of the four panels the character is in, two of them that character is just as sketchy as the other students, he's merely colored brown and not that shade of light blue. In the third, he differs from the other students because he gets dots for eyes and a smiley face. *********** In the fourth, he gets a head shot.************ (I grabbed the first two pages from the CBR preview.)

I could argue, were I inclined*************, that the choice to be a sketchy mess was specifically chosen to non-verbally reinforce the professor's bored, jaundiced perspective and the student slowly making themselves known as a distinct person.************** I could also argue that Mr. Tempest's work is just as bad elsewhere in the comic and it detracts from the effectiveness of the story, which I do not believe can stand many more of these choices. His use of a different style, in a purple background, presumably to highlight lingering traumas is effective. He's better than this. So is Mr. Kot.

Perhaps something will come of Material, but I'm not optimistic. It is difficult to recommend this comic without massive qualifications. If you've taken an intro to film class, you're probably familiar enough with Mr. Kot's references to seek out other works by those authors you haven't already consumed. Buy those. If you still feel compelled to spend money on this comic, don't. Instead, donate to a local Narcotics Anonymous chapter. Or Southern Poverty Law Center. Or any organization that works with prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to get them reacclimated. Or any of the many charities doing great work on Chicago's south and west sides.

I believe Mr. Kot is sincere, which makes this review difficult. If Material #1 was a cynical exercise at our expense, I could be more dismissive. There is simply too much crammed into this comic to make it feel disingenuous. I feel compelled to write this not merely because of my inescapable ego, but because the comic required a reaction. We need authors like Mr. Kot and Mr. Tempest. We don't need Material. You don't, either. *************

*See also: "I spent more time on this comic than Wil Tempest did" -Anonymous reviewer

** See also: telling you to Google something is not worthy of a fucking footnote it actively insults the reader's intelligence not to mention, putting Horman Square in a footnote is redundant when the writer introduces the place in the very next panel

*** See also: He could have put it in a footnote

**** See also: Fuck this, I'm gonna read the Flash, there's a talking gorilla there with more personality than every single one of the characters in this particular plot without exception

***** See also: Plus, the guy who is drawing the gorilla is a goddamned professional that understands human faces and was paid well for his work (hyper capitalism!)

****** See also: hyper capitalism is my new safeword

******* See also: That and YOLO

******** See also: And Shelley

********* See also: I'm commenting on the text /within the text/? I'm being metatextual! HOW NOVEL


*********** See also: Footnote #1

************ See also: Quake II, I guess

************* See also: But I'm not!

************** See also: Actually, wait. This is a good storytelling shoring up either an inability to make a drawing of a human being look convincing or laziness or a deadline

*************** See also: Do you see how distracting and unhelpful this is now
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