Strip Search

Edited by Adam Gallardo
128 pages, black and white, and color
Published by Dark Horse

I enjoy anthologies a great deal. They let me take a look at both established and up-and-coming talent and let me see just what they’re made of. In many ways, it’s like getting to see nothing but trailers for upcoming movies and then you get to pick and choose which ones you’d like to go back for and pay full price to see. Strip Search is all about the up-and-coming talent, reprinting the first year of Dark Horse’s online strip contest. Are these comics’s version of the next Kelly Clarkson? Or will it be nothing but disappointment like Jim Verraros and Vanessa Olivarez?

Like most anthologies, there are a few entries in Strip Search that stand out above all the rest. Jacob Chabot’s cover-featured “The Mighty Skullboy Army” has a nice combination of humor and slick art, about a little skull-faced kid who is trying to take over the world but is hampered by being forced to attend elementary school. It reminded me a little bit of the animated show Invader Zim with its general attitude and setup, which is a very good thing indeed. Chabot proves here that stories involving monkeys and robots can be funny in the hands of people besides James Kochalka.

Also good at humor are Obi-Wan Shinobi’s “Tic-Tac Machete” and Eric Haven’s “Haunted Cypher” shorts. Shinobi’s four pages crams nonsensical plot twists and off-the-wall humor in such a fashion that really works. Mind-controlled goats? Decapitated heads coincidentally falling into jars of evil life-imbuing liquid? You’ll find yourself just nodding and saying, “Sure, why not?” because Shinobi gives it the right attitude; it’s never questioned by the characters involved, and the story just keeps plowing ahead before the audience has time to stop and really think about what’s going on. Shinobi’s twelve-panel grid works nicely, going for a cartoonish look that accentuates the general goofy nature of the book that also keeps the story moving at a quick clip with its small, focused looks at the action in each panel. Haven’s “Haunted Cypher” comics are a different sort of humor than Shinobi’s but they’re no less entertaining. From strange twists on Aesop’s fables and Charles Atlas advertisements to inventions gone horribly wrong, each one-page story sets up a situation and then veers drastically into directions unexpected based on the initial panels. It’s a great example of how to confound a reader’s suppositions, and Haven’s wit is made even better with his pleasant-looking black and white art, with its crosshatching and careful attention to anatomy.

Unfortunately very little of the rest of the book is as well rounded as those first three examples. So many of the other entries suffer from the exact same problem: fantastic art, but writing that isn’t up to par. For example, Ben Stenbeck’s “Alcoholism Spaceman” opens the collection with a gorgeous full-color splash page of sharks swimming through the air past an astronaut on the moon. The story’s never able to live up to that initial image, with a Flaming Carrot-esque sort of narration that doesn’t quite come together, even as one great page of art after another follows. It’s a problem that plagues a lot of other entries, like Arran and Corran Brownlee’s art for “The Stalker and the Stag” with its usage of monochromatic shades and lighting tricks for sharp looking pages.

The most frustrating is when a story seems to be on the edge of it all coming together but just isn’t quite there. Niklas Asker’s “TV Violence” has a soft, confident line about its art that reminds me of The Human Target‘s Cliff Chiang, and its attempt to draw a line between cartoon and real television violence is there… but it just doesn’t seem to connect. The point just doesn’t seem to actually get made, with too many pages in the beginning used on setup with very little available for the actual meat of the story. (One of the two pages of a character walking up to the apartment was space that could’ve been better used later on to elaborate the point.) Likewise, the winner of the first year of Strip Search, Jeff Kilpatrick’s “Stop Light”, is a story that’s trying to fake out the reader into the protagonist’s intentions, but it’s sabotaged by both the title of the story itself, as well as the storytelling itself, which never really disguises what’s going on to the degree needed for the final page to be any sort of surprise. It’s a pity, because once again it’s a good idea and there’s some nice art, but it needs just a little more tweaking to all come together.

Lest this sound a little too negative, I’ve got to reiterate that Strip Search has a lot of great art by newcomers here. The writing on most of the entries might have not been quite up to par, but quite frankly if editors used Strip Search as a catalog of new artists to hire I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest. It’s a nice little sampling of talent, and when things do come together they’re quite good indeed. Any book with Chabot, Haven, and Shinobi inside already has three real winners, after all. And if Dark Horse does another year of the Strip Search contest, well, you can believe I’ll be checking out the new entries as well.

(We here at the massive office complex understand that perhaps not all of you are as avid viewers of American Idol as our entire staff is. So, in case you were scratching your head at the introduction, we shall happily explain. Kelly Clarkson was the winner of the first season of American Idol and her debut album, Thankful, has gone platinum. Jim Verraros and Vanessa Olivarez were each the first finalist to be eliminated from American Idol‘s first and second seasons, respectively. And, now that you understand, we at shall go back to today’s work, which involves ignoring our senior writer blasting Clarkson’s CD at a volume loud enough to rattle windows. He gets a little obsessive that way.)

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