Thursday, November 16, 2006

Action Figure

I wish I could say I picked up Action Figure: From The Journals Of Richard Marzelak at my local comic store, but that's not the case. Although the debut issue of the series was solicited through Diamond, it didn't meet order minimums. And we all know what that means. It's a shame this book didn't make it onto comic store shelves for at least a couple of reasons.

First, the professionalism behind Action Figure is apparent in every step - quality production values, excellent art, a story just off the beaten path. While VampireLesbianTitExplosion keeps on selling enough to make it through Diamond's policies, quality productions like this (and others) get left behind because they are not stroking a particular fanboy bone. Diamond gets to run its own business, and at times I agree with their "Survival Of The Retail Fittest" policies. There's a difference, though, between series that have a proven track record of poor sales, and a series that isn't even allowed to try and build that track record in the first place. I have no idea if Action Figure could become a hit, but I can say with certainty that it won't achieve that status without some presence in shops. I don't doubt that some self copies would have sold just off the strength of that engaging cover ... assuming there were shelf copies to be had.

Second is that though there are problems in this first issue, it shows tremendous promise ... promise that can only be realized by continuing work and feedback. Art needs an audience - it's part of the learning curve - and I hope Richard Marcej can find one though his all-out carpetbombing of the WeboComicsblogoNet and his easy-to-use web shop. The simplest and best praise I can five a first issue is this: I want to see more Action Figure. It's far from perfect, but it is charming, filled with passion, features some wonderful cartooning, and has a disticnt voice. Although Richard Marcej is new to comic books, his experience in cartooning and design is readily apparent.

The biggest weaknesses in the book come right at the front, a barrier before heading into the meat of the story. Both the introductory letter from the author and the curious framing sequence serve the same purpose: to let us know what an accomplished, important man Richard Marcej is. The framing sequence pertains to his alter-ego "Richard Marzelak", but using the phrase "thinly-veiled" would be overstating the case by implying the existence of some sort of veil. Besides the general off-putting own-horn-tooting of it all, it's also committing the cardinal sin: it is a lot of tell and not much show. I'm being handed the curriculum vitae of Richard Marcej/Marzelak, as if it matters. As a reader, I want an entertaining story about interesting people and things: I don't care about truth or credentials or importance. Outside of comics, Harvey Pekar is anything but accomplished and important ... how he observed life and told stories made him a success, not his resume.


Once past that initial hurdle, the book starts to come to life. The art style loosens considerably, and really starts to drive this story of office politics, art, and their uneasy coexistence. There are a few too many cliches peppered through out: dreams of flying by someone who feels trapped, adventures in being late for work, bosses who exist purely as obstacle, too-witty banter by officemates. It edges toward s sitcom, but what begins to carry the book and make it stand out is the character of Richard Marzelak. Once past the aggrandizing bits at the beginning, a whole different character emerges, and one not totally unlike the aforementioned Pekar. Marzelak is a bitter dreamer, illuminated in flashes of optimism and despair. He causes most of his own problems, and it's those moments when you realize that he's not entirely sympathetic that really make the book. He's more complex than his label of "struggling cartoonist". Is is his failures - not his gleaming resume - that make the character interesting.

I hope that web sales or other distribution methods will help Action Figure find a life apart from Diamond. It's an interesting book, and promises to become more so as Richard Marcej grows as a storyteller. The art's there, the production values are there, the characters are there: all that's needed now is the storytelling and the ability to let the work speak for itself. I'm looking forward to Action Figure #2.