Writer: C.B. Cebulski
Artists: Paul Azaceta, Martin Montiel and Juan Castro, Alina Urusov, Khoi Pham, Jonathan Luna & Ethan Young
Letters: Randy Gentile & Jonathan Luna
Cover artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US/$6.95 CAN
C.B. Cebulski is best known in the comic-book industry for his time as a Marvel editor whose familiarity with Japanese culture and language enabled him to recruit talent and develop manga titles for the top U.S. comics publisher. Now, he’s a freelance writer, but he still seems to be primarily associated with Marvel; he even has a super-hero title, The Loners, on the horizon. Hopefully, there will be some buzz about this autobiographical title, though. The strength of this personal and universal storytelling should get people who enjoy good comics to view Cebulski in a new light. The theme for this anthology is billed as Cebulski’s awkward dalliances with romance and sex, but what it’s really about is the cluelessness of youth. I didn’t have nearly as much luck with the ladies in my youth as Cebulski seems to have had, but it’s easy to see myself in the carefree and clumsy lifestyle that’s an integral part of each of the short stories making up this first squarebound volume. Furthermore, I enjoyed seeing such a diverse array of artistic styles, and more importantly, Cebulski, as he has in the past, introduces his readers to some new talent of which they have not have heard before.
In the late 1980s, C.B. Cebulski wraps up his time in high school and embarks on his college career, and like many of us have found in our late teens and early 20s, those times in our lives are marked by experimentation. We experiment with philosophy, with limits, with booze and even with drugs. But perhaps the most powerful force, the most powerful urge within is the need to experiment with sex. Whether his friends called C.B., “Ceeb” or Chester, the writer shares several of those awkward initial experiences in his life. More often than not, those first forays with flirtation and fornication expose flaws, foolishness and fear.
The visual highlight of this issue is the artwork of Alina Urusov. Her work strikes me as a cross between the styles of Joshua (Superman/Shazam!) Middleton and Jason (Body Bags) Pearson. She conveys the characters’ youth with seeming ease, and there’s a sleekness to the figures that enhances the raw, sexual energy of the story. The art is too dark, but I suspect it might have originally been rendered in full color and was adapted for this black-and-white book. A superficial look around the web indicates she hasn’t had much work published before; in fact, this might be her comics debut. But with work this strong, she won’t be a secret for long. Azaceta’s work on the opening story is strong as well, especially given the heavy, thick lines he employs. They still manage to capture the grounded, vulnerable qualities of the characters. Unfortunately, the huge lettering on that story overwhelms the art a bit.
The art throughout the book, in all six chapters, represents some solid storytelling. None of the line art is disappointing. The closest it comes is with the art from Martin Montiel and Juan Castro in the second chapter. It’s the most detailed and realistic of all the various styles, but it’s also the most conventional and ordinary. Leinil Yu’s cover tries to sum up the anthology, but instead, it makes the main character look like the player he isn’t. Still, I was surprised to see it was Yu’s work. It looks more like Duncan Fegredo’s distinct style (and yes, I mean that as a compliment).
C.B. Cebulski, as a character in this book, is the Everyman. If anything, he’s completely average. The writer spends no time in his script trying to distinguish himself as a character from others around him. It makes him seem rather boring, to be honest, but it’s a wise storytelling decision. Since he’s more of a cipher, the reader can relate to him more easily and himself in his experiences almost immediately.
As is the case with any good autobiographical comic, this book’s greatest strength is the writer’s honesty. These stories don’t make him seem like any kind of smooth operator or poetic soul who always knows the right thing to say to melt a woman’s heart. He’s a schlub, a regular guy whose sexual experiences and romances are often the result of accidents or intoxicants. He makes bad decisions and has bad reactions, but he’s basically a decent guy who’s capable of tenderness. The ultimate lesson we see him learn over time is that a great romance has as its foundation a great friendship. 8/10