Posted by Don MacPherson on November 5th, 2011
Heaven All Day
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: John Martz
Publisher: Adhouse Books
This comic book caught my eye by way of a quick glance at one of the shelves at my local comic shop. It looked like a fun mini-comic, but as soon as I picked it up, I realized it wasn’t just a mini-comic. Most mini-comics are simple, photocopied, homemade comics — at least, when I think of a mini-comic, that’s the impression that jumps to mind. But this book — distributed by Adhouse Books and made possible through a Xeric Foundation grant — is much more polished than my idea of a mini-comic. The production values are high. More importantly, though, is the fact the storytelling is nuanced and challenging. John Martz’s visual style is a simple one, but he’s able to say so much with his minimalist approach. Martz’s message is certainly a timely one, given global economic turmoil, joblessness and a spreading wave of protests against corporate greed and government irresponsibility. Some of Martz’s meaning in this silent story is loud and clear, but I found where the two main characters connect to be a bit more ambiguous but nevertheless intriguing.
A poor engineer trudges through his daily routine, making his way to work on the bus, being careful on the job not to irk his unseen superiors and making his way after a long tiring day. But along the way, he peeks in garbage bins and scans the street for something particular — the last, rare component for a machine he crafts in his odd hours in his rundown apartment. Meanwhile, a little robot with no home and no means to provide for himself struggles to survive on the streets in the face of abuse from authorities and rotten luck.
Martz’s art wouldn’t be out of place on the daily newspaper comics page alongside some of the more simpler-looking styles one can find there, but despite the basic nature of his cartooning, he’s nevertheless adept at capturing the often subtle emotions of the two main characters. His style strikes me as a more advanced version of Scott (Dilbert) Adams’ work — much more advanced. I loved how the basic, cute nature of the robot character gives way to a more detailed, intricate look later in the book (due to the unfortunate circumstances that arise for the little fella). Perhaps the most important element in the art, though, is Martz’s use of a single color to enhance the mood. The pale blues cast a fitting pall over the industrial, dilapidated backdrops, serving to add to the sense of isolation in which the engineer is immersed. Martz uses a darker shade of blue to set the robot’s life apart as well.
I like that the engineer’s triumph at the end of the book isn’t a complete one. As far as I can tell, his escape from the drudgery of his existence is a temporary one, but it’s enough. By the end of the book, he’s back in his routine, but he feels nevertheless freed. In contrast, the robot achieves a different kind of release. Whereas the engineer has a purpose all along (though his goal was elusive), the robot was aimless, unable to overcome the fact he was unwanted. He finds purpose after his arc comes to an end. I’m not entirely sure what Martz’s commentary is meant to be here — that everyone has a purpose in some manner, I’m not sure. The intersection between the two main characters’ lives makes for an interesting and thought-provoking notion, though.
The poverty and totalitarian approach to corporate and civil security stand out as the most compelling aspects of Martz’s story. Undoubtedly, he’s been crafting this story for some time, so there’s no way he could’ve foreseen the Occupy/99 Per Cent movement. But there’s no questioning the experiences that unfold in Heaven All Day are what led to it. Of course, the protests point out, in part, the financial imbalances in Western society are untenable, whereas Martz’s story ultimately has an encouraging message, I think. The engineer’s perseverance wins out over the oppression he witnesses and experiences every day. Maybe one day we’ll be able to say the same about the 99 Per Cent as well. 9/10
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