Never as Bad as You Think hardcover graphic novella
Writer: Kathryn Immonen
Artist/Colors: Stuart Immonen
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $15.99 US
I wasn’t aware this book was in the works, but I’m pleased to have finally learned about it. Boom! has collected an experiment in comics storytelling by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen into a handsome hardcover volume. Never as Bad as You Think (originally published online) is slated for release this week, and I suspect it might fly under the radar, given its unconventional nature and limited publicity. The Immonens have taken a challenging storytelling exercise — each script is prompted by a random keyword — and offered up a thoroughly amusing series of vignettes. The best thing Never as Bad has going for it is its surreal script, but it’s also an opportunity to for fans of Stuart Immonen’s super-hero projects (from Legion of Super-Heroes to Ultimate Spider-Man) to see him flex some different artistic muscles. There’s really only thing flaw to be found here, and it has nothing to do with the creators’ performance.
There’s no real plot to be found here. Instead, the reader follows various characters as they weave in and out of the lives of other characters. They complain about one another. They care about one another. They enjoy life. They tolerate it. They relax. They get hurt. And they talk. They talk circles ’round one another, talk in riddles and talk to the animals. And in some cases, the animals talk back, or at least with one another.
Most comics readers were introduced to Stuart Immonen’s artwork during his days as the penciller on such DC titles as Legion of Super-Heroes and Adventures of Superman. He boasted a soft, realistic style that was quite appealing. The style he employs now for super-hero work is much angular, exaggerated and kinetic, but it’s also quite convincing. For Never as Bad, we see Immonen as a cartoonist rather than as an illustrator. His style on these strips is more like his more recent work (NextWave, Ultimate Spider-Man), but there’s still a wide divide between them. His work here is simpler and more expressive, and it’s definitely more comical in tone. Another thing I love about his work on Never as Bad is the fact that the project offered him a chance to explore a wide variety of character designs, from the everyday look of regular people to oddball stuff like a tubby mariachi band leader. The colors are incredibly bright, so much so that they reinforce the weird, over-the-top and goofy tone of the dialogue and situations.
Well, after reading Never as Bad, it became abundantly clear that the surreal but delightful dialogue in Patsy Walker: Hellcat isn’t something Kathryn Immonen developed just for that Marvel limited series. The same beats, enthusiasm and unusual stream-of-consciousness elements are to be found in the rapid-fire banter throughout these comic strips. The script is terribly clever and unrelentingly entertaining. Immonen doesn’t get a lot of time to spend with these characters, but she nevertheless manages to say a little something about each and every one of them.
The only real problem with this project is its price. I know this is a hardcover book, but 16 American greenbacks is a lot of coin to ask of a customer for a six-by-nine-inch book containing fewer than 60 pages of actual content. Mind you, the content is exceptionally entertaining, and it’s fascinating to see how the creators tackle this odd experiment in the craft of comics. these small, hardcover books definitely appeal to a certain niche in the market; people are buying Scott Morse’s tiny, hardcover books, after all (see Notes Over Yonder for an example of what I’m talking about). It’s great that Boom! is providing a higher profile for the Immonens’ more unconventional work, but I can’t help but wonder if the pricing will prove to be an equally effective obstacle. (For those interested in picking this book up at a cheaper price point, a quick Google search indicates the Immonens offered a softcover edition in 2007.)
Despite the hefty price tag, Never as Bad is hard to resist. The experiment is a challenge the Immonens undertook and they succeeded with it, but the end result also challenges the reader. The audience is challenged to find the quiet, down-to-earth meaning in these little moments, the meat that hides behind the quirky dialogue. These comic strips are tremendously fun, but they’re not as superficial as some might think at first. This project also marks a significant departure for the publisher. Boom! Studios has, up to this point, been mainly a publisher of genre comics. With Never as Bad, it’s broadening its line, and I hope we see more of unconventional projects such as this one in the future. 8/10