Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Everyone wants me helpless." Duster Review

More than three years ago, I supported a comic book Kickstarter for the first time; last week, the product finally arrived. It certainly took its sweet time, but here at last is the graphic novel Duster!

The book is written by Micah Wright and Jay Lender and drawn by Jok, with that spiffy cover you see by (of course) Howard Victor Chaykin. I became interested in the project in 2012 because it was being championed by creators such as Kurt Busiek and - being inexperienced with crowdfunded projects - I felt that established creators deserved my funding to see their self-published comics come to life. In particular, although I had never read any of Micah Wright's comics, I vaguely recalled skimming past Bleeding Cool's expose of his having lied about his military career. This was the first comic book I had seen Wright's name on since that scandal so I suppose I gravitated to this project because the idea of seeing Wright redeemed would be compelling, even if the comic book weren't. As Wright appeared to be someone whom the comic book industry had abandoned, it made perfect sense to see his name on a Kickstarter project. The delay from when the books were mailed out to its arrival in my mailbox was much greater than usual, to the point where I wondered if I had been forgotten. The book finally arrived with something I had never seen before:

Canada Customs stopped the parcel at the border! Boy, align yourself with Micah Wright and the world conspires against you! (seriously, is he on a watchlist?)

Duster concerns one Jo Baker, a single mother and crop duster living in a small Texan town near the end of World War II. Just as Germany has surrendered in Europe, a plane full of Nazis who have cut a deal with the USA are headed over Texas airspace, en route to safety in South America. Unfortunately for everyone, they encounter Jo's plane and this results first in an aerial attack, a farmhouse raid, a town held hostage and finally a showdown in a wool processing plant.

Duster is a thick book, the main story running about 220 pages. Considering many Kickstarter comic book projects aim to deliver perhaps 20 pages of original content, Duster definitely falls on the heavy end of the scale, which helps mitigate the lengthy production time. However, the story is broken up into six chapters which are each comparable in length to that of a monthly comic book - despite this book being a first-time publication, not a collected serial! Likely, this is because Duster is also being sold broken up into its chapters as a set of digital comics.

I've never seen the work of artist Jok before; he's well-suited to this tale and its quick-paced action. He also does a terrific job of desining distinctive characters, both amongst the townsfolk who populate the background and the Nazis, so that even characters who aren't identified by name become familiar and demonstrate quirks.

The plot is fairly pedestrian, usually ramping itself up to an action scene, then building a ramp to the next such moment. The story is mostly notable because of the strong female protagonist (yes, that's why Greg Rucka likes it), the wartime setting and the flashes of humour throughout the tale - occasionally rather grim humour, such as a memorable death scene in the wool processing plant.

The only note in this book which struck me the wrong way came from the introduction, written by Martin Olson: "This should be a movie. Make Duster into a film, dammit. I want to see it. Badly." Once again it hits open my pet peeve about film and comics - that comics are seemingly incomplete as a work of art without a film - that the process of reading words for yourself and choosing how to interpret the page is better left to cameramen and sound mixers - that a labour of love created by a mere handful of folks is inferior to that of a major motion picture's hundreds of staff members. Where do we see this attitude but in comics? Who listens to a radio program and thinks, "Now adapt it as a painting!" Or watches television and remarks, "I can't wait for the magazine!" I beg you, my readers - don't be that guy. The medium of comic book art is sufficiently capable of telling stories intended for the medium of comic book art. End. Of. Rant. (for now)

I no longer support every Kickstarter run by a personality whom I merely recognize - I'd be broke if I kept that up! Nowadays I'm much more choosy in terms of who and what I support - plus, I prefer the digital option over print 'cause my shelves really don't need any more crowding. Regardless, Duster is a good package - a page-turner in the tradition of classic comics. It may not be more sophisticated than a 1930s comic (the crowdfunding aspect is perhaps the most notable thing about it), but the Strong Female Protagonist should help it find an audience with contemporary readers.

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