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Flight Explorer Vol. 1
posted May 13, 2008


Creators: Matthew Armstrong, Bannister, Phil Craven, Steve Hamaker, Ben Hatke, Kazu Kibuishi, Johane Matte, Jake Parker, Rad Sechrist, Kean Soo
Publishing Information: Villard, softcover, 112 pages, March 2008, $10
Ordering Numbers: 9780345503138 (ISBN13)

imageIf I remember the discussion surrounding the publication of the first four Flight volumes, one of the driving ideas is that it would help a specific group of artists perhaps more attuned to illustration and animation to build the confidence and chops so that they might continue doing comics on a grander and grander scale. That's a lovely thought for a comics series, and while a lot of the work in Flight left me cold, there was so much of it in one place that it kind of felt like eating a luxurious meal at a restaurant whose cuisine I didn't take to naturally, or seeing in a movie at the Cinerama in a genre I didn't care for. What I didn't like I could appreciate; what didn't work was subsumed into memories of those half dozen or so cartoonists who seemed destined for greater things. In that way, Flight kind of worked like a classic comics anthology, just with more of an open ambition to spring its cartoonists on the world.

Flight Explorer also seems like a classic anthology, but one of those that's working out of more mundane concerns. Namely, it's directed at all-ages readers, and partly as a result it's a more portable book with a great price point that would seem to appeal to a younger consumer that might not be able to get the bigger books. As a result, there's a lot less work here, and what there is doesn't seem as inspired as some of the "I'll give comics my best shot" ethos that seemed to (and maybe just seemed to, but still) inhabit the larger volumes. For instance, work by two great talents for all-ages comics, editor Kibuishi and Kean Soo of Jellaby submit works that frankly come across as a bit perfunctory. Kibuishi's lacks the formal audacity of later Copper pieces, while the Jellaby comic is as adorable as always but seems almost pushy in communicating its warm fuzziness, like the creator was forced to come up with something heartwarming at a pitch meeting. A lively adventure short by Steve Hamaker ("All In A Day's Work") and a comedic piece by Philip Craven ("Big Mouth") seem to represented cartoonists working closer to the edge of their talents; each finds the right level of verve in terms of their presentation and both offer a kind of completeness to their stories that makes each experience seem less like an installment in some other book's run of chapters. Most of the other work I found forgettable, so many reasonably well-drawn color fantasies, like flipping through the cable cartoon channels from the treadmill Saturday morning at the gym. Flight Explorer feels like it's one or two compelling, audacious and lively efforts from completion, an anthology without a central, defining work or two. That, sadly, is also pretty common.