Vertical

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Penciled by Mike Allred
Inked by Philip Bond
64 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

At a casual glance, it’s a gimmick comic. Take the normal dimensions of a comic and slice them in half so it’s only half as wide as normal. Then, let the comic open up from top to bottom so it’s twice as tall. What’s surprising, then, is that once you get past the casual glance that Vertical works quite well in these strange dimensions. In fact, I can’t imagine it any other way.

Zilly Kane wants to be a movie star. That’s why she’s come to Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory where art is produced on a daily basis. It’s her meeting with Brandon Bale that’s going to really change her life, though. He’s a good-looking hipster that Zilly Kane’s fallen head over heels for. The thing is, Brandon just seems more interested in falling off tall buildings than falling for her…

The first thing to strike you about Steven T. Seagle’s writing in Vertical is that he’s structured the narration in the second person. It will no doubt be strange to many at first, being directly addressed by what they’re reading. It sets the tone, though, for the sense of unease and vertigo that Seagle’s trying to create here. This is a story about two very disturbed people, one who lost love and now plummets towards the ground to try and recreate it out of guilt, and another who wants to prove the voices in her head wrong. Maybe it’s because of the narration style, but it’s surprisingly easy to understand why Brando’s jumping off buildings, and to even gain sympathy for him. He’s one messed up guy, but you just keep hoping that somehow Brando and Zilly will end up together in the end… and not “together” as in “together in a puddle of crushed bones.”

If you’re doing a book set in the 1960s, having Mike Allred and Philip Bond draw it is a great choice. Everyone looks fantastic in Vertical, with their mod fashions constantly on display. What’s even more striking about the art, though, is how they use the vertical format to their advantage. Because your eye is automatically being drawn down the page by the size of the paper, Allred goes all the way with this idea, letting Brando tumble down the length of Vertical one image at a time. By echoing the image of his body down the pages, you get a real sense of movement here, and it’s a fantastic feeling. This is, after all, a book about falling (both physically and emotionally) and Allred knows just how to bring Seagle’s script home. There are a lot of nice little touches here as well. When Brando and Zilly are first falling in love, for instance, there’s a subtle shift towards some of Warhol’s art styles here, and for those who have seen that art in the past it’s a clever nod to the setting. Just as importantly, though, for people who don’t get the reference it still works, almost as if it’s a softening of the lens of the imaginary camera to help show their love for each other.

I can’t imagine an ongoing series of Vertical, but as a one-off special it hit the spot just right. A fun little diversion (and a nice way to round out Vertigo’s tenth anniversary), Vertical will tumble its way into your heart over and over again. Just make sure to stand back from the edge when you’re reading it.

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