Review: Demo #3

“Volume One Love Story”

Story: Brian Wood
Art: Becky Cloonan
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

How we deal can define who we are. Crisis, excitement, disappointment– the way we react shapes both our self-perceptions and the way others perceive us. Most of the time, the line between those two realities is pretty solid. For Marlo, the focus of the newest issue of Demo, however, this line doesn’t exist. All the little things most of us keep inside our own minds are forced into the open for her in the form of post-it notes. She has hundreds of them, each one a comic book thought bubble made real. They leak out of her home, onto the bus she takes every day, her innermost processing stuck to the light posts and newspaper boxes she passes. She holds a pile of them in her lap at her therapy session. They’re a crutch, but they make her happy.

Until, one day, other notes start to appear in her office, on her doorstep, in her house. Notes in another hand altogether. Notes that aren’t hers, whose author appears to know her quite well indeed.

“Volume One Love Story” wears its heart on its sleeve, just like one of Marlo’s notes. It’s straightforward and breezy, and as Brian Wood notes in the issue’s backmatter, on-the-nose is sometimes the only way to fly. Given how dark any given issue of Demo can be, this story’s placement in the middle of the series is both surprising and welcome. It’s a cheerful chaser, a shot of quirky sunshine in the middle of darker stories like issue two’s “Pangs.”

While Wood’s story- his “cutest” ever, according to Becky Cloonan- is certainly at the heart of things here, once again it’s Cloonan’s art that brings it to life. Demo‘s creative team really is a dream collaboration; I would love to see a reprint of this issue colored in the simple, bright style of the cover, just to enhance the bold linework. Becky also lettered every one of the post-its, and while Brian was careful to fill in messages for the plot-specific ones, the rest of the notes were all her own work. The end result, and the way they’re used in both story and art, is rather like a deeply personal set of the Oblique Strategies– Marlo uses them as guides to internal structure and springboards for personal expression, even consulting them during her therapy sessions.

We’re halfway through the series and Demo is holding strong with what might be its strongest entry yet. Wood and Cloonan promise another walk down the dark side of the street in the preview for issue #4, “Waterbreather.” I have a feeling I’ll enjoy the entire collection of tales either way, but I can hope for at least one more lighter note like “Volume One Love Story” before we’re done.

Review: Demo #1

Demo #1

“The Waking Life of Angels”

Story: Brian Wood
Art: Becky Cloonan
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

The film school experience has given me a love-hate relationship with short films. I certainly love the format, and wonderful things can come out the strange place that makes you focus a story down to twenty pages or less. (They can be longer, of course, but this was the rough limit we were set to back in the day, due to budget constraints and perceived attention span of the festivals they were targeted for. In the page-per-minute paradigm, 15 pages/minutes was considered the sweet spot.) While not all short films are student films, by default the majority of student films are short films. And, let’s be honest, it takes a special kind of aesthetic fortitude to watch student films, and I can be fair enough to include the ones I was involved in as well.

The first few films of a student career span a very energetic time, and everyone involved is coming at it like newborns regardless of actual age. It’s intoxicating to have that much freedom early on, and doubly so if you’re any kind of realist and understand that it might be a while before you have it again. Whether or not the actual content needs it or not, the tendency is to push it as far as you can, to quote Dr. Duke. The end result is often low on nuance and subtlety, and usually hard to watch. But everyone has a good time doing it, and it is, for many people, the closest they’ll ever personally get to the craft.

It’s from this strange place that I read Demo #1, Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s second (and, now, Vertigo-published) foray into the Demo universe. What strikes me the most, the main reason why I shared the above observations, is that this feels almost like the film student’s dream. It been years since your thesis film, you’ve moved on into whatever corner of the industry you managed to worm your way into and then, with all that new experience behind you, you’re suddenly allowed to go back and do it again.

I certainly hope I’m not misreading how much fun Wood and Cloonan appear to be having, because it’s the feeling I came away with. I can’t think of another self-contained, single issue comic that carries itself from start to finish as deftly in art and writing as this one. The closest I can come is Neil Gaiman’s Hellblazer #27, “Hold Me”, but that involves an established character — that almost seems like cheating in comparison to Demo‘s “new character every issue” approach. In a landscape littered with mega-crossovers and reboots, it’s a breath of fresh air.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve never read the original AiT/PlanetLar series. I think we have a copy of the trade, though [Actually, we’ll have to pick it up; I’ve only got Channel Zero and Couscous Express –J.], and after this I’m certainly going to give it a go. Obviously, even though I used the film-school metaphor, I don’t mean to imply that the original issues were amateurish. I honestly don’t know. I can’t argue with their decision to come back to Demo, however, regardless of how it all started.