Wastelandon January 28, 2009 at 9:02 am
I’ve always been fond of apocalypse stories, even though I frequently misspell the word and find it a bit tough to roll of the tongue. It’s not the word’s fault though, many of these problems are my own. I don’t hold apocalypse’s semantic problems against it.
As a kid I loved the Mad Max series, and virtually any other story that featured dirty men with long hair dressed in football gear roving the wasted ruins in a hodge podge of recycled vehicles. Which I guess is kind of odd considering how overwhelmingly depressing stories about the end of the world can be. What with the mutants, and the cannibals and rape gangs.
They are compelling drama though, and most end of the world stories are built on the foundation of hope. Hope that in the absence of all of our technological wonders, and in the aftermath of a total breakdown of civilization, there remains a chance that heros can rise and perform good deeds, even if it is often for the wrong reasons.
The plot of the stories resonates with the audience because it reflects the very real fears that most have about the delicacy of our world. Whether it’s from environmental mishap or nuclear exchange, there is a persistent, and frankly arrogant, belief among humans that we have the power to destroy the earth we inhabit.
Providing an audience with an environment they can connect to is very important in engaging their attention and the aftermath of a collapsed civilization provides a convincing setting for contemporary fantasy. People turned off by most genre fiction for the unrealistic and unbelievable backdrop of either dragons and elves or the space flight and aliens, have little to no problem imagining themselves as a hardy survivor of the apocalypse.
All of which is a very long introduction to Wasteland, via a love letter to the genre of the apocalypse.
I saw the trade collection of the first six issues at the con, I was immediately drawn by the beautiful Ben Templesmith cover. It’s evocative of the entire genre and immediately signals, “THIS STORY IS ABOUT SURVIVING THE END OF THE WORLD.” Furthermore, it tickled my memory, as did the first few pages. I’d clearly seen parts of this story before, perhaps in a preview book from a previous con.
I picked up the book immediately, how could I not? Antony Johnston has presented a rare story. A subtle combination of epic plot and archetype characters delivered in a lean package that reflects the setting. There’s no significant dialogue until page five and the protagonist doesn’t speak until page eight.
To support this dearth of words, Christopher Mitten’s illustration is equally lean without being sparse and delivers engaging visuals. The ink reflects the story and outlines the important and bold elements while implying with subtlety the background and supporting elements. This is art that immediately and efficiently tells you what’s going on. With no written introduction and minimal dialogue, the setting, character archetype, antagonists and motivations for the first act of the story are immediately clearly established.
The audience isn’t directly presented with any information about what caused the breakdown in civilization, or indeed which civilization it may have been that failed, or when it may have happened. By the end of the sixth issue, we still don’t know what the catalyst for the apocalypse is and it doesn’t matter that we don’t know. The information is an element of the plot, and like the mysteries surrounding all the main characters, details are rationed out at a pace that keeps you wanting to learn more and searching the background and dialogue for hidden clues.
I think Wasteland is an extraordinarily well assembled story, and I’ll be on the lookout for work by this writer and illustrator in the future. You don’t have to take my word for it though, you can download the first issue from the official website in .jpeg, .pdf, or .cbr.
There’s another lengthy story here about new media savvy publishers and adopting to digital distribution markets, but I’ll save that for another day.