Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Fell #1

The first thing I want to talk about is the format. Fell is a 24-page single, that contains 16 pages of full color comics and several pages of what's called back matter -- text stuff, sketches, background material, perhaps even audience emails as we get going. And it retails for $1.99 American.

Further; each issue is a self-contained story. If you read them all, yeah, you'll see ideas and relationships develop. But there's nothing stopping anyone entering the series at any moment, understanding the set-up and getting a complete experience out of it. It's no harder to walk in on than any episode of Law and Order.

Self-contained, as densely packed as Ben and I can manage, with extra reading material in the back, for a buck less than most books of its type.

Why? Well, I don't know about you, but I remember being poor. I remember the difference between (the local equivalent of) a dollar ninety-nine and three bucks being the difference between buying a comic or missing a meal. And for that purchase price, I wanted value -- a complete experience that I'd want to replay again and again.
-- "Warren Ellis on Fell", Newsarama.com

A complete story where nothing is being stretched out for the trade collection? $1.99

16 pages of Warren Ellis' top-shelf stuff, with commentary and extras? $1.99

Teaching Old Dog Floppy new tricks? Priceless.

It a bit of actual irony (as opposed to the Alanis Morissette kind), one of the writers most castigated for introducing decompression into the American Mainstream has produced the most compressed comic on the stands. In a scant 16 pages, Warren Ellis has produced more story than any three issues of House Of M, and at a fraction of the cost. Though 16 pages may put off some readers, I've never cared about page count: I care about story, and Fell delivers. Fell is ambitious, trying both a retail experiment and a storytelling one. But it's that rare experiment that succeeds at everything it tries to do.

Fell is a detective story, and a noir tale that will feel familiar to Ellis veterans. Richard Fell transfers to the Snowtown district, an inner city where society if slowly coming unglued and returning to a feral state. Though Fell shows many traits common to Ellis protagonists (hyper-perceptive loner who is emotionally closed), he isn't your Standard Ellis Hard-Ass. He isn't bitter or scarred, and is actively trying to be a Good Guy. In the scant 16 pages Ellis has to work with, we get not only an introduction to the characters, settings, and themes of the story, but we also get a complete murder mystery. The mystery gets a bit of short shrift, with a chance encounter that provides the telling clue, but it's got good characters and a neat twist. It's the world-building that astounds as Ellis and Templesmith create a fleshed-out city and a rich cast of characters. Though Ellis' telling dialogue gets much of the credit, much of the heavy lifting is done by Ben Templesmith's tight layout and expressive, cartoony faces. Though minor characters like the precinct's secretary only have a few panels, they become memorable characters due to the emotion Templesmith imbues.

If decompression is The Disease, Fell is The Antibody. It's a curative for the "write for trade" methods of the majors, and simultaneously produces one of the best books on the stands. As a storytelling experiment, it meets and exceeds expectations. The retail part of the equation ... only time will tell. Next spring will see Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá's Casanova use the same format, and I hope that they see success. I don't know that this will be the magic bullet for the industry's ills, but it sure isn't a bad start.



Greg said...

I certainly didn't mean to castigate Ellis for his decompressed storytelling; I simply wanted to point out that he does it a lot, which is kind of annoying, because he IS so good at these kinds of stories as well. I don't see why he has to stretch something out so much occasionally - it's not like he can't write compact tales, and I often wonder if the editors tell him to stretch it out. It bugs me, because Fell #1 is a very good comic, and it just shows how "easy" it is to write single-issue stories. But everyone will continue to draw things out. Grrr.

Mark Fossen said...

You're far from the only one to think Ellis carries things too far, but your piece came immediately to mind. Which is a good thing. :)

It's one of the things that amazes me about Ellis - he can kinda do everything. He digs so deep into structural issues that he can write in any number of styles. if he wants to decompress, he can ... but if he's decised conciously to tighten it up, he'll deliver incredible compression.