Amazing Montage Magazine

for June, 1999


Alex Robinson, he da man! Antarctic Press has put a big vote of faith in its quirky independent title BOX OFFICE POISON by releasing an issue in full color-- and artist Alex Robinson has risen to the occasion, making this a great opportunity to sample the full spectrum of his writing and drawing talents.

BOX OFFICE POISON focuses on the true-to-life adventures of a group of intelligent but often foolish Big Apple housemates. The issue-length story 'Temptation' is one of Robinson's best and most complex tales yet.

It weaves two storylines together beautifully-- Stephen and Jane have a romantic conflict when Stephen's old girlfriend Darlene calls him and arranges a luncheon date. Meanwhile, Sherman's life is turned upside down when he is temporarily appointed the floor manager position at the bookstore where he works.

The romantic storyline reveals complexity and depth in Stephen's and Jane's characters. She is secure enough that she never throws a fit about this possible rival for his affections. But he is secretly troubled by his own feelings, becoming obsessed about his former lover.

Robinson's subtle storytelling is a pleasure to watch. For example, on page two, he focuses on Jane's face for 12 panels as she is overhearing Stephen's telephone conversation with Darlene. Her expression changes from mild interest to annoyance at being distracted from her book; then when she realizes who it is, her eyes widen with surprise, and she is taken aback when she hears that Darline is coming to New York. This sequence involves us with her character, and sensitizes us to watch her expression in later scenes.

Robinson makes effective thematic use of snapshots Stephen has kept from his time with Darlene. Through these snapshots we share the good times he had with her (and their presence tends to obscure the bad memories he has up until the climax.) At one point he destroys one of the photos to placate Jane; later, he shaves his beard to look more like he did in the photos. And on the last page, one final snapshot from the past makes an effective counterpoint, representing Jane's own feelings.

The Sherman plotline is also absorbing. He finds that in spite of himself he assumes the roll of managerial authority. The early sequences here are particularly interesting, as he experiences the frustration of having a staff that constantly shirks their responsibilities and irritate customers.

Robinson makes terrific use of color. He has a neat scene on page one where series regular Ed introduces the color effects, while stage hands work behind him to make adjustments to it. Robinson's coloring is eye-pleasing but subtle, supporting the story while never getting in its way. He uses it effectively for dramatic emphasis in a brief flashback, showing Stephen and Darlene's 'true' relationship swaithed in angry red tones.

It's nice seeing an intelligent indy comic in color; it reads better, and takes on greater depth. If only the best comics could appear in this format more often!

Alex Robinson is the creator of BOX OFFICE POISON; 208 W. 23rd St. Suite #1616, New York, NY 10011,

Mystery Graphic Novels on the Rise


by Joe Zabel

No doubt about it, the mystery comics genre is on the rise; and you need no further proof than a set of recent releases which are a veritable trinity of terror!

WHITEOUT is an extraordinary work of comics art, a marvelously sustained union of narrative and illustration. It is that rare comic that succeeds in creating a factually-based unexplored world populated by a riveting cast of believable characters. A beauty to behold and a pleasure to read, it is one of the best comics of the decade.

Like FARGO or SMILLA'S SENSE OF SNOW, it transcend the mystery genre while embracing it. There seems to be something about those cold climates that bridges the gap between crimes of passion and the sense of the eternal.

In fact, writer Greg Rucka has set WHITEOUT in the heart of Antarctica, at McMurdo Base, Victoria Station, and Amundsen-Scott, the South Pole itself, regions so cold that no life survives, 'not even bacteria.' A best-selling mystery writer whose Atticus Kodiak series (FINDER, KEEPER, SMOKER) has received critical acclaim, Rucka has the setting nailed. He knows the lingo and the day-to-day routine. More, he's managed to get inside the inhabitants' heads. He 'knows the ice.'

Thankfully, he also knows how to keep a mystery plot moving, starting with a corpse whose face has been mutilated beyond recognition by pecking Emperor Penguins; and a police officer, Carrie Stetko, whose sense of herself has been obliterated by trauma and guilt.

Carrie engages us with her toughness and bravery, even as we draw back from her determination to solve the crime so she won't lose her job and be shipped off the continent. Why is she so determined to stay in this brutal, thankless environment? To solve that mystery requires reading between the lines; not only the lines of dialog, but the lines in her face.

Steve Lieber's art is a revelation in this series. A skilled realist, he supplies the bricks and mortars of Rucka's authentic scenario. And the snow. Lieber is a master of making you shudder with bone-chilling conviction even in the middle of summer, with textures everywhere suggesting snowstorms, fog, condensation, and brittle ice.

Lieber's portrait of Carrie brings her to life with a welcome respite from glamour and cliche; he invests her with the strong character that pulls Rucka's narrative together.

A skilled artist and a master storyteller, Lieber is a talent worth watching!

Oni Press, Inc.
6336 SE Milwaukie Ave. Suite 30
Portland, OR 97202

Necking with his girlfriend Satomi in a lovers lane, college student Ko is troubled by the feeling of being watched. After she leaves for a class, he surprises a peeping tom who's been watching them with night-vision glasses. Confronting him, Ko tries to start a fight, but soon discovers that this observer is far more than just a sex pervert.

VOYEUR is a graphic novel collected from the manga (Japanese comics) series which runs in PULP magazine. Hideo Yamamoto's craftsman-like work is typical of the manga style, with an emphasis on visual storytelling that moves very rapidly and smoothly. But it has an unusually Hitchcockian twist, with the relationship between 'normal' Ko and the creepy, philosophical Takuro.

Takuro wants to draw Ko into his practice of voyeurism, which he believes is the only way of discovering real truth. He intuits that the smiling face Ko presents to Satomi is a mere cover for his sexual tension and jealousy. And he persuades Ko that following and observing Satomi will reassure him of her faithfulness.

Although sometimes awkward in its execution, VOYEUR is an outstanding exercise in suspense and philosophical meditation. It doesn't take the predictable route into psychosis and violence, but stays focused on its themes, the search for truth and self-knowledge and the ethics of intrusive observation.

Viz Communications Inc.
P. O. Box 77010
San Francisco, CA 94107

Ed Brubaker turned heads with his outstanding script for an earlier mystery-suspense comic, AN ACCIDENTAL DEATH; so his new 4-part series SCENE OF THE CRIME arrives with considerable anticipation. And while not up to the level of DEATH, the new series is an interesting and complex exercise in the classic private-eye genre.

The detective, Jack Herriman, may be something of a 'Gen-X' slacker with spiked hair and a smartass attitude. But the plot has its roots in Chandler and Ross MacDonald, a durable tradition still employed by authors like Sue Grafton and Jonathan Kellerman. A young woman is missing, and when Jack finds her, he feels responsible for her subsequent murder. So he follows a trail that leads to a weird cult and a dope ring, and ultimately to contradictions that reach back into a past of twisted family relationships.

Michael Lark's art is skillful, detailed, and consistent. He maintains an unexaggerated realistic atmosphere that works well with Brubaker's story.

On the downside, Brubaker has a tendency to 'tell' the story when it might be more entertaining to 'show' it. And Lark's character faces often seem remote and off-putting. He has a bad habit of showing characters who are talking with their mouths closed, giving the story an un-lifelike feel. And it's sometimes difficult to tell the characters apart, a common pitfall of realistic cartooning. But the strengths of both Brubaker and Lark more than make up for these minor flaws.

For years, DC's Vertigo line has been cultivating a stylistic trend that emphasizes low-key realism. This has mostly been employed in atmospheric contemporary fantasies like SWAMP THING and SANDMAN, but SCENE OF THE CRIME shows that it has the potential to strike a cord with a potentially huge cross-over audience. The word is that SCENE OF THE CRIME is a modest hit; lets hope it leads to plenty of sequels!

Images copyrighted by Hideo Yamamoto/Shogakukan.Inc and Frank Miller.