Friday, November 22, 2013

Retrospective: Exploitation Now!

Hey look, something about a comic, a dead one, but a comic nonetheless.  In fact, this is the first of these Retrospectives I've done about a long deceased comic, all the rest died or completed shortly before I wrote theirs.  It won't be the last.

It's also one of those comics I've been meaning to reread for a while, and it's short, so that helps.  Exploitation Now! is one of the earliest strips I read, and is also amongst the first of them to end, which makes it a fine starting point for this leg of the series.  It's also Michael Poe's first foray into comics, immediately followed by Errant Story.  Yeah, it's kind of damn important.

The first thing I noticed was how quickly the art of EN! began to feel like Poe's art style.  He does have a distinct style which combines a bit of the anime/manga look with very heavy lines and distinctive shapes for the head and bodies of his characters, and they start really coming together before even the halfway point of EN!'s life span.  That said, at one point I wasn't sure if the art was as I remember it.  During a certain flash back sequence, the art switched to a dreamy, grey scale shaded nature, which is pretty common, but a specific panel didn't reflect my memory.  Of course, that was back in 2002/2003, so a decade of time might have effected it.  Still, I got a feeling that the art had been redone at some point.  Possible as he has been working on reworking Errant Story for publication, so EN! may have already undergone the same treatment.

What really makes up EN! though is the way it's structured, which is, to say the least, odd.  Do keep in mind that EN! lasted a whole 2 years, and that was it.  Even in the last few months of the year, I'm sure Poe was more focused on Errant Story (it started in November of 2002, EN! ended in September).  It started as a "gag-a-day" strip, featuring a kind of humor I think I'll call "Shock-Snark" and may write a longer article about in the future.  There are a lot of comics that this back in the day, and a lot that TRY to do it now, and fail miserably because it's not so shocking any more (early internet was weird kiddies).  As the comic went on, it shifted to a much more dramatic style.

I've talked about Cerebus Syndrome before (usually with regard to Sluggy Freelance), but in a LOT of ways, EN! is a much better example.  The idea of drama eating a humor comic is blatant and obvious here.  The point when it becomes clear the comic has taken an odd turn is when one character narrates her backstory, in the middle of a fire fight with the police.  That's the joke of course, but the backstory isn't funny at all.  It's not BAD, mind you, but compared to the string of jokes based on sex, drugs and toilet humor that came before it stands out.

The real reason it stands out though is that the two main joke characters were separated from the drama characters at about this point, and never met again.  This allowed the dramatic story to dominate, especially in the last act where there were very few jokes at all.  The thing is, the last act of EN! feels very much like the entire RUN of Errant Story, though it lacks a lot of the real depth Errant Story would have by the time it reached it's climax.  Of course, that's 2 years versus 10+ so that's to be expected.

I guess my point is while Exploitation Now! isn't a great comic, it is good and educational, especially if you've read Errant Story (and if you haven't, shame on you).  It's the foundation on which a greater piece was created, and thus from a historical perspective, it's invaluable.  Of course it ends with a tease for a sequel, but I doubt we'll see it.  Not that it can't be done, I can think of more than a few ways (the first being to actually get Bimbo and Ralph involved), but I think at this point Poe has grown past it.  Does Not Play Well With Others could be considered a quasi sequel (one of EN!'s characters plays a relatively major role there), but it's not a direct sequel, and I think it would be a disservice to both comics to try to turn it into one.  Maybe one day we'll see EN! return, but I doubt it, at least for now.

Well, that's enough for today.  I'll see what I can get together for next week, until then kiddies.

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