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‘Grafix Chronicles #1:’ Comic Book Review

Grafix Chronicles is a black-and-white anthology of short comics from past and present small print artists. Issue #1 includes “The Man Under the Microscope!,” “Solomon Wyrd,” and “Don’t Touch Me.”

“The Man Under the Microscope!”
Writer: Jonathan A. Gilbert
Artist: David Owens
Lettering: David Vance


MINOR SPOILERS BELOW

"The Man Under the Microscope" reminds of The Hulk in reverse and something any science geek like me might get a kick out of. In fact, had this been out when I was growing up, I could definitely see my father reading it to me as a bedtime story. Although, artistically, it probably would best be performed Shatner style or with Robin Williams doing all of the crazy voices. Better yet . . . team them up and see what happens!

In this comic we are introduced to Dr. John Hibbert and his associates, who have created a shrink ray, so Dr. Hibbert can examine microscopic bacteria up close and personal to see how they function. The title block reads, “Molds, Amoebae, Bacteria. Aside from the occasional potential health threat, these organisms are of little threat to Hhmanity, or so we’d like to believe. Dr. John Hibbert shared this view until the day he became . . . 'The Man Under the Microscope!'" While reading I could hear ominous music like in movie trailers and lots of DUN DUN DUN sound effects. The comic does a nice idea of satirizing itself and its premise. I am no germaphobe, but call me crazy - being the same size as them, even in a protective suit, just seems like trouble waiting to happen. The Black Death anyone? Small Pox? Cholera? HIV? Totally want to take a dip in those!

Fortunately, the narrative and dialogue are campy and light like the original comic hero talkies. (“It’s a bird! It’s a plane. It’s Superman!”) The simplicity of the artwork completes this feel. It’s a fun, light read, simple and easy to follow. The creators did not try to cram too much plot into a short comic; it has just the right amount. In fact there were moments where I found myself catching what I thought was a story continuity error, but the next thing I knew Dr. Hibbert comments on the exact same thing - stealing my words - and all I can think is “JINX” followed quickly by “I knew it!” and “Oh, so this is where they are taking it,” which is exactly where you want your readers, completely immersed in the world. Either scared or giggling and following every beat of the story with anticipation . . . no matter how cheesy or ridiculous it becomes.

When Dr. Hibbert is shrunk, he finds himself saved from Streptococci by Hrrhkk, an intelligent, microscopic, telepathic life form. As it turns out, the Hrrhkk are looking for a new place to inhabit; they thrive on pollution. So, where do you think that want to take over? This comic has Al Gore written all over it. They should have totally used it on the campaign trail in 2000, as it is funny, yet poignant and insightful. I mean, 15 years later and the majority of people are finally acknowledging global warming as fact; however, give it up to these graphic artists to focus on an environmental issue and not make it feel like preaching. So, while it is a very cheesy, lighthearted read, it sneakily brings up an important issue, much like the Magic School Bus books I loved so much as a kid.

But, then again, it’s like the chicken and the egg conundrum. What’s going to kill mankind first: global warming or a world-wide pandemic? As Nathan Wolfe wisely said, “If an alien visited Earth, they would take some note of humans but probably spend most of their time trying to understand the dominant form of life on our planet - microorganisms like bacteria and viruses.” But, in honor of this comic’s camp, wit, and lighthearted humor, I leave you with Benjamin Franklin.  “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.”   I’m quite sure Dr. Hibbert needed a whole bunch of wine and beer after his adventure!


“Solomon Wyrd”
Writer: Jonathan A. Gilbert
Penciler/Lettering: David A. Vance
Inker: David Owens


MINOR SPOILERS BELOW

If I didn’t already know this was the same team from "The Man Under the Microscope," my first thought would have been . . . this reads an awful lot like "The Man Under the Microscope." Solomon Wyrd has a completely different premise, of course, but with the same campy, comedic voice. This is a solid creative team, with a firm grasp on their writing and overall concept style. Both stories relay back to science; in "The Man Under the Microscope," science is dominant, whereas in "Solomon Wyrd," it’s more of an afterthought, comedic bit.

Solomon Wyrd, our hero, is first introduced chanting over a cauldron rather creepily, if I do say so myself.  The narrative is very ominous and serious:

Narrative: Thoughts take different forms. Some are banal and trivial, others are of grand importance. Whatever the form, there is one thing that all thoughts have in common . . .

Solomon: An ill storm blows tonight. I sense it with my innermost self.
Narrative: . . . eventually they are intruded upon by the outside world.
Solomon: Someone comes.

You think? I am pretty sure that is what the narrative was suggesting. But, that is the brilliance of their storytelling style. This team masters the jack-in-the-box gag; you know its coming, and you wait and wait 'till . . . BAM! . . . the punch line, and you still can’t help but laugh, even though you knew it was coming all along.

Finally, we meet Solomon’s interruption, Donna Taylor, a research student writing a thesis and hoping to speak to Brother Otso. We come to find that Solomon is the only person left at the monastery, or The Brotherhood of Avalon. Promptly, he invites her in to “help her.” Rightly so, she heads to her car to follow up on a lead on a cult, instead of going alone into the eerie building at night. I mean, never take candy or drinks from a stranger, and don’t follow hooded, strange men into their dungeon alone . . . right? Cults on the other hand, totally safe. Luckily, Solomon’s Brotherhood of the Avalon, or Forgotten Ones, have been using “magic” for centuries to protect Earth from demons.

Enter my favorite line:

Solomon (after destroying the demon by using magic): Once again the magic is dispersed. Once again this world of science and technology is protected from the arcane. Once again, the ways of the Avalon are triumphant.

Irony? Reminds me of the PSA before movies. “Turn off all cell phones. A movie theatre is no place for technology.” And yet, aren’t movies, by nature, technological? Just saying. LOVED IT! But, then again, maybe Solomon is using science. Solomon Wyrd and The Brotherhood of Avalon are a mystery never explained to Donna. Luckily for us, she’s determined to find out. Although the piece is written in the vain of a series (i.e., to be continued), the continuation was not included in this collection, which I found disappointing, as I would have enjoyed reading more.


“Don’t Touch Me”
Story and Art: Ron Stewart
Words: Ron Fortier
Lettering: T. Warren Montgomery


After reading two comics by the same creative team back to back, I found it difficult to truly judge "Don’t Touch Me" on its own merits. "Don’t Touch Me" is a completely different style of piece, not a bad style . . . just out of place following two comedies. It would have made the collection more cohesive if each issue were pieces from the same creative teams, or all different teams. Having two of the same and one different made it feel a little disjointed. That being said, I will endeavor to critique "Don’t Touch Me" as a separate piece.

Because it was very short, with lecture-style narrative (and admittedly due to following two comedies), it came across a tad “after-school special” to me. The idea is intriguing: a man inevitably becomes what he despises most, because his “generosity” is insincere. Very Beauty and the Beast, minus the Beauty. And, I guess that is my overall issue with the piece; it felt incomplete, like the story could have continued and been multi-layered. Maybe all of the homeless people used to be selfish, corporate people, or there is a mystic cause. It would have been really exciting if the first man he is rude to is actually himself, but that could be due to the fact that I am a child of the '80s and may have watched a little too much Back to the Future. The artwork is fitting, and there are a few typos, but, in general, it was the overall lack of closure or the inkling of continuance that left me wanting and disappointed.

While I think this piece would have stood out better own its own or better matched with other comics, I still feel it would have had the same struggles. "Don’t Touch Me" is a lesson we have heard before but not really told in a new way. I am definitely one for brevity, but this piece needed more length, because, as it stands, it isn’t a complete story yet.

Favorite TV Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Favorite Actors: Charlie Chaplin and Carol Burnett
Favorite Superhero: Batman (although Superman and Iron Man come really close)

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