Written & Illustrated by various
Published by IDW/Act-I-Vate
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah
If you’re like me, it’s going to be near impossible to give up paper comics; but if you’re like me, you’re also not ignorant to cultural and technological trends that have been building inexorably since Dr. Egon Spengler declared that “print is dead.”
It’s going to be a while before webcomics overtake print as the industry’s primary business model, but if you’re not paying attention, the best creative work is already unfolding on the world wide interwebs. And many of the best cartoonists have centrally located their work at ACT-I-VATE.
Well, not only are the ACT-I-VATE creators doing great work, but they’re aware of our Luddite ways, and they’re willing to meet us halfway. In collaboration with IDW, today the ACT-I-VATE PRIMER arrives in comic shops, providing readers with sixteen peeks into the work being done at ACT-I-VATE (in case you missed the link the first time).
In the spirit of their sampler, here are some thoughts on each of the sixteen narratives to be found within:
Michel Fiffe’s “Zegaz” – The first thing that will strike you is the great use of color, soft and understated, only highlighting the emotional centers of each panel. Fiffe’s creative layouts support a solid narrative about moving on with life.
Jim Dougan & Hyeondo Park’s “Sam & Lilah” – You’re going to see this compliment come up repeatedly: It’s a very well drawn strip. Vibrantly colored, Sam and Lilah are a young couple who argue and separate. A split-page narrative tells of each character’s fantasy-based dream about their anger toward the other. It looks quite nice, but a slightly forgettable story.
Simon Fraser’s “When Lilly Met Cosmo” – Solid art in a fairly mainstream mold keeps the story crystal clear, but there’s not much there. It’s a marginal sci-fi yarn with curious, slightly erotic element. Although it could develop into more and does have some intrigue, it’s ultimately only a tease and not a great one.
Roger Langridge’s “Mugwump the Great” – The very dense concentration of panels provides plenty of information and merriment. It’s a very well drawn strip, infused with off-beat humor and a quirky mystery. In short, this is one of the book’s most effective pieces.
Tim Hamilton’s “Tales of the Floating Elephant” – Repeat with me: Nice art. Hamilton’s a very strong illustrator, giving this story great atmosphere. It’s moody, effectively sloppy work. The plot is a little difficult, creating a somewhat obtuse story.
Mike Cavallaro’s “Loviatan” – Perhaps my biases show here, as I can many readers really digging this one, even though it was my least favorite. Uneven, but mostly solid art works effectively, but it uses my least favorite plots, a magical kingdom crossing into our world, and an evil brother betraying the righteous king-to-be. It needs some twist to make it feel fresh, but it’s not here in this sample.
Dean Haspiel’s “Billy Dogma” – No surprise that Dean’s page look great. I’m not familiar with Billy Dogma and its universe, but I can always get behind sexually charged humor like this. Intriguing, and well worth seeking more from.
Maurice Fontenot’s “Ghost Pimp” – Another very well drawn comic. This one’s a black comedy, and quite funny. Initially expecting a mediocre pastiche of exploitation movies, I was pleasantly surprised by Fontenot’s creative choices.
Joe Infurrari’s “ULTRA-lad” – Nice coloring and inking, as Infurrari really infused his strip with a “found old comic” quality. The set up, while intriguing, didn’t quite capture my attention. I’d be curious to see what else he’s created for the site, however.
Leland Purvis “Vulcan and Vishnu” – This is beautiful illustration, some of the best in the book. It’s a silent piece, with a few illustrated thought balloons, about two men working to overcome an obstacle, complemented by excellent soft coloring.
Jennifer Hayden’s “Rat-Chicken” – I liked the indie-feel to the artwork, with its loose anatomy, simple faces and stiff poses. Hayden’s dialogue is solid, and the strip’s built on an intriguing concept. I’d like to see more, although this particular installment doesn’t really add up to much.
Nick Bertozzi’s “Persimmon Cup” –Interesting pseudo-mythic take on confession and its societal and personal value. Like many, a bit of a tease, but one of the most effective at enticing me to read more. No shocker: Bertozzi boosts his script with some very nice, stylish art.
John Leavitt & Molly Crabapple’s “Slow News Day” – Rinse and repeat: great art (really, I meant it every single time) and nice coloring that adds to the period setting. The tandem crafts a solid story, with an intriguing ending.
Mike Dawson’s “Goodnight Max” – This piece plays with the style of a children’s picture book story, with big, simply colored panels. He playfully undercuts the form with a dark lesson about learning that maybe we’re not as special as we each think we are.
Pedro Camargo’s “Esqueleto” – Camargo’s building a creepy, horror-tinged heroic quest saga here. The primer here is essentially the origin story. It’s solidly crafted, not quite my thing, but readers of this type of material will probably appreciate it. The creepy, suitably messy art is a great complement to the narrative.
Ulises Farinas’s “Motro” – This tale is more pseudo-mythology, dealing with growing up, becoming a hypocritical adult. Perhaps there’s something there, but this particular installment didn’t really grab me.
Of sixteen stories, I’d count at least half as winners in my book, which is a really high ratio. I’ve always ascribed to the idea that if an entire line of titles appeals to me personally, then the creators are missing a whole range of interests of a massive cross-section of other potential audience. There’s a nice range of comics at ACT-I-VATE, certainly something for just about any reader. The creators work in the areas of human drama, comedy, sci-fi, adventure, fantasy and all manner of hybrids that explore the range of comic book possibilities.
Look, the best comics of the new millennium are going to be online. ACT-I-VATE PRIMER is a great sample plate, and you can dive right into the deep end at ACT-I-VATE.com.