Cellies Volume One trade paperback
Writers: Joe Flood & David Scheidt
Artist: Joe Flood
Editors: Amanda Meadows & Andrea Colvin
Publisher: The Lion Forge
Price: $14.99 US/$19.99 CAN
This book caught my eye because of its promise of a workplace comedy, and I thought the title’s play on words — incorporating a term meant to represent a cellphone store and inmates bunking together — was cute and succinct. But when I delved into the story itself, I found it populated by an array of people almost devoid of redeeming qualities. I wouldn’t want to spend any real amount of time with these characters in the real world, and that means I didn’t much care for spending time reading about them either. I think there’s great potential in the concept behind Cellies, but just about every conflict arises from the characters’ selfishness. Furthermore, the premise is rife with comedic potential, but it’s never all that funny. Cellies is a missed opportunity.
Hours at the local Job Mobile store is a grind for its employees. Devin, the epitome of a slacker gamer dude, is just punching a clock, Elena sees it as a foot in the door at the corporation so she can put her MBA to good use, and Parker wiles away the hours because her daddy runs the company. The job is a refuge for teenage Rey from her overbearing parents, and Jerry, who should be thinking about retirement at this point in his life, is forced to work in what’s essentially an entry-level job after a career in another industry. Under the lacking supervision of their vacuous manager Christian, they’re working at an under-performing retail outlet, emblematic of their under-performing lives.
The one aspect of the book that didn’t disappoint was the art. Joe Flood has developed a look for the book that seems clearly inspired by the Archie Comics house style, with a hint of the iconic character design approach from the various Bruce Timm-inspired DC super-hero cartoons. There’s a nice variety and diversity in the character designs here, and Flood never amps up the physical sexual attributes of the women. There’s a fairly strong sense of place in the settings and a decent level of detail despite the cartoony art. The way he seems to go awry is that the locales in which the story unfolds tend to look a little too spacious, from what should be the cramped confines of a strip-mall store to the interior of a car.
A clear sign there was an issue with this series from the start is the shift from the first issue to the second. There’s a change in the writer and the editors after the opening chapter, and that struck me as odd. The effect in the story itself is pronounced, as the book moves from a focus on exaggerating its depiction of cellphone culture to the painful clumsiness with which these characters interact with each other and the customers. When the book aims for the comedy for which it should, the jokes are obvious and not terribly funny, and when it focuses on the characters (which is what Flood concentrates on when he takes over the writing chores), it casts them in the worst possible light.
There is potential in these characters, but Flood fails to delve into it in any depth. I found Jerry’s plight — resorting to working in a cellphone store after layoffs in the newspaper industry — to be an interesting and relevant one, but Flood’s response to that premise is to make the character a nasty, bitter guy, to the point that the reader is left thinking he got what he deserved. Elena’s ambition and willingness to pay her dues to get a job for which went to grad school make her admirable at first, but then she becomes defined by her willingness to take down her co-workers to get ahead. Unenlightened white privilege in the workplace is a concept worth exploring, but the lack of any real consequence for Parker in that respect makes every instance of it cringe-worthy. Just when there’s a element that promises to make a character likeable, Flood has each one do something reprehensible. I don’t know who the protagonist of these book is meant to be.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this book is that the collection fails to offer anything resembling a complete story. It stops abruptly in the middle of a plotline about the teenage Rey being caught duping her parents and the potential fallout for her and her co-workers.
Cellies reminds me of Kevin Smith’s Clerks in many ways, and while some of the material in that low-budget but iconic movie from 25 years ago hasn’t aged well, it was a workplace comedy that was able to balance humor and character development. Cellies is a collection of character traits and plot points that fails to tell a story. 3/10