Tuesday, October 03, 2006

110 Per¢

by Tony Consiglio

I think it almost goes without saying that Tony Consiglio is heavily indebted to Alex Robinson. Everything from the way he draws to the kind of plot he crafts draws some form of inspiration from Robinson's work, both Box Office Poison and the superior Tricked. But there's nothing necessarily wrong with an artist learning from the influence of his predecessors and peers. Sometimes, yes, influence can be a straitjacket (as when Al Columbia had a nervous breakdown from trying to be Bill Sienkiewicz), but more often than not if the artist in question is any good, the influence is eventually subsumed by earned skill and experience. At least Consiglio acknowledges the debt, with a special thanks to Robinson on the book's dedication page.

110 Per¢ is by no means a great work but it is very good. I must admit to being biased towards the subject matter. In my other capacity as a music critic and general gadfly I've seen people just like those portrayed in this book, encountered extreme forms of fandom of the type that can derail lives or, at the very least, warp peoples' personal priorities in odd and unintended ways (and I'm not even talking about Swamp Thing fandom). Brushes with intense fannishness are always unsettling, especially for someone like myself who prides himself on keeping an even temper and accepting everything, even that which we love most dearly, in moderation. But I've definitely seen the people who let these obsessions consume them. That part of 110 Per¢ rings frighteningly true to my experience.

As a cartoonist, Consiglio is still learning. He's got a number of interesting tricks under his sleeve -- in particular, there's a recurring effect that uses a series of small inset panels to indicate a split-second reaction shot, or inset panel borders to indicate accentuated action within a larger establishing shot. Hardly new ideas, but interesting ways nonetheless to break up otherwise static panel progressions. What could have been a fairly static narrative is therefore livened up with occasional flashes of formal ambition, creating the Per¢eption of depth in what is otherwise an extremely straightforward story.

There's another technique used throughout the book, however, that drives me up the wall. Consiglio frequently uses two distinct line widths in his art: a thicker black line, like you would get from a magic marker or wide brush, as well as a thinner line for detail and crosshatching, probably laid down with a technical or ballpoint pen. For some reason this technique never works in my eyes. It reminds me of kids drawing superheroes and Dragonball characters on pieces of typing paper, drawing the outlines of the figures with black Sharpie markers and filling in the details of musculature and shading with a fine-point pen. Regardless of the fact that I've seen many cartoonists utilize the effect, it just never looks right to me.

This pet peeve aside, I still enjoyed the book quite a bit. One of the ways Consiglio keeps the book afloat is by keeping the focus tightly on his protagonists. There are three main chracters in the book, all middle-aged women obsessed with the fictional boy band 110 Per¢, and all led by their obsession to lie, cheat and steal. The way Consiglio juggles multiple parallel narratives, introducing minor characters with flashes of color and weaving them deftly through the various storylines, cannot help but remind the reader of Robinson's work. But Consiglio has at least one clear advantage on Robinson in this regard -- 110 Per¢ is, ultimately, a very modest work with a well-defined scope. Robinson initially came out of the gate with Box Office Poison, an enjoyable book that nonetheless definitely suffered in many ways from Robinson's inexperience. Tricked was superior to its predecessor in almost every way, so at least he's picked up a few things. If Consiglio advances as far with his sophomore effort as Robinson did with Tricked, he may have the makings of an interesting career.

But let's not put the cart before the horse. 110 Per¢ is, above all, an enjoyable book, a fun read that manages to skirt the edges of misanthropy without necessarily sacrificing the readers' empathetic identification along the way. It's a fine line, and there are many readers who will probably find the book's happy ending somewhat unsatisfying, simply because it doesn't go as far into the realm of total bleakness as it might have. The good characters who have the capacity to learn from their mistakes do so, the bad characters who become consumed by obsession are left to their own devices as they slowly sink into squalor. The underlying theme of the work, that people create their obsessions to fill holes in their lives, is underscored without necessarily sacrificing a degree of subtlety. That rings true as well. It's not a terribly ambitious piece of work, but it's executed with enough skill and flavor to stick with you after the book is finished.

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