Ales Kot’s beloved series Zero will be ending this month, much to my and many other dedicated readers’ dismay. However, Ales has recently been writing a comic called Material which from the description online looks vague, but somewhat promising. Is it good?
Material #2 (Image Comics)
Material is not one linear narrative, but rather a collection of narratives running parallel to each other. Basically, the comic is split up into four different stories, which share some common thread; though I’m still not sure what that common thread is. The stories are all very different but compelling in their own ways. First there is the story of a professor who has been contacted by some unknown entity. He is struggling with different philosophies as well as deriving meaning from his own existence. He spends most of the comic talking to the entity via his computer. Then there is an (understandably) troubled man who has just been released from Guantanamo Bay. He has an unhealthy relationship with his wife and is too shaken by his past to be a safe member of society. Thirdly there is the story of a has-been actress working to get her career back in motion as well as reinvent herself. She interacts with a visionary director who is interested in helping her create a movie. Lastly, there is my personal favorite of the stories: a tale of a young black teenager who is struggling with police brutality and is active in protests against racial violence. He is learning how to interact with his peers and what it means to be black in America.
As I said, these stories are all very compelling. In this issue, we get to see the black teenager as a member of his family and amongst his peers. He seems distant even if he is among those he loves. The story communicates the teen’s feelings of unrest not through words but through many panels in which his face tells the story completely. The teen appears (as one of his friends described him) melancholy. He looks downtrodden even when he’s joking around with his friends. And when he is allowed to play video games, a reward for helping make dinner, instead of excitement he shows upset at the violence in the game. The empty panels of this comic that display his emotions are some of the most powerful and poignant panels I’ve seen in comics for a while.
Oh snap Mr. Lewis!
While all of the characters in Material are very intriguing, very few of them have gotten enough air time yet to really understand them. I do wish that the comic took a little more time to just show us the characters’ lives and let us draw from the scenes what we wish instead of having so much exposition in each scene. I feel like the two stories that struggle with this the most are the story of the professor and the actor. Because pretty much all of their two stories have been made up of vague, ponderous dialogue it’s tough to really feel or learn much about either of the characters. I’d rather just witness the character’s behavior to begin with and then draw conclusions later.
Abstract scenes sometimes detract from this comic; this is a perfect example.
Stylistically, Material is one of the coolest comic books I’ve ever read. The cover design is gorgeous, the paneling is next-level and at the bottom of (almost) every page the author inscribes further reading on the themes represented in the page above. As well as further reading there are also relevant quotes to the material. However, the most powerful of these little footnotes occurs on the pages that tell the story of the black teen. On the bottom of each of his pages are the names of three black citizens who have been murdered by police. At the end of each issue there is an essay from an author that Ales Kot “respects.” That part struck me as a bit imperious of Ales, but the essay is a nice touch.
I wasn’t as impressed by the art in Material as I thought I was going to be. Ales is usually great at selecting his artists but this one seems a poor fit. The linework seems stiff and un-lifelike, which taxes the action and spirit of the book a touch. That being said, the colors are terrific, from dry grays to sunset oranges to a beautiful contrast of navy and yellow for the scenes taking place in the city.
Is It Good?
It’s certainly good. Although this book hasn’t won me over quite as quickly as some of Ales’s other works, I’m definitely enjoying it more as it progresses.