Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Filler up. 

John Dough is, as suggested by his name, just a guy that occupies the backgrounds of peoples' lives while he quietly lives out his stretch, leaving no impression on anyone. He's a self-made cipher, or perhaps more accurately, a self-made blank. He makes no connections and leaves no impressions, and seems to want it that way.

But this is a comic book, so of course things can never remain that simple for John for very long.

A woman enters John's life with a weary smile, a black eye, and a sad tale told over dirt-cheap diner food. And before you can say "Hey, there's some superficial similarities to Sin City up in this piece," John takes himself on a vengeance trip through your usual host of seedy massage parlors and back alleys.

This is a great book to look at. The art is often spare, lending full weight to the participants in often pages-long conversations. I found myself at first skeptical of Rob G's presentation, and increasingly more enamored with it. His lines are rough and composition unbalanced, but there's a feel to the people and places of Filler that's undeniable. Too few artists can give a range of identifiable facial expression without resorting to cartoonism, and I admire any that do it well without exaggeration.

The addition of red to the traditional B&W palette of AiT books is used to great effect. There are enough pages where the new toy gets used overzealously, but quite a few that contribute quite well; I'm pretty sure everyone's been in a place that looks like China Row. I'm also particularly fond of the panel where John enters a bathroom, the shadow from the open door casting red in pristine white bathroom... a nice foreshadow of the violence immediately following.

But here's the problem. Stories that offer a protagonist who is in every way severed from human experience make it impossible for an audience to care. Truly, why should I give a shit what happens to John Dough? He's a blank, with the corresponding no-personality of someone who would make themselves a blank, and it's impossible to be compelled by such a personality. I found myself finishing the book for posterity's sake, and to see where the art went.

Okay, here's something about Sin City, though I fucking promised myself I wouldn't do it: the protagonists in the Miller books are usually one-note jokes, but we're compelled to see where they go and what happens to them because they're colorful one-note jokes. The energy of those books is undeniable. These are men and women with a purpose, no matter how ridiculous that purpose might be. Dough offers no such energy; his presence is one of apathy, and the reader takes that cue and approaches the work apathetically.

I couldn't properly tell you if Filler is a success or a failure, because for me, it's really fucking hard to get around a protagonist I just don't care about. Why was this story made? What was the point, really? It's not a "message" book, so we need something inside the story itself to hook us through till the end, and only the art delivers that hook.

Insert your own pun about the book's title and its place in the creative output of the market here. I don't have quite the guts to be so obnoxiously cutesy.

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