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Nathan Sorry Part One
posted February 9, 2010


Creators: Rich Barrett
Publishing Information: Self-Published, mini-comic, 28 pages, 2009, $3
Ordering Numbers:

There are at least a thousand different ways to read comics. One of the oddest I've encountered is to treat the scripting and the artwork as rough vehicles for a concept that exists in some state removed from the execution of that concept. A comic book as a staged reading, or an animatic. I think you can trace this way of approaching comics all the way back to the bad old days, when comics were more frequently seen as advertisements for something -- anything -- other than being that comic. The comic wasn't as important as the potential for that comic to become something else. It's only in the last 15 years of critical writing on comics that folks have to my eye become routinely comfortable in simply pointing out artwork that looks beautiful, or dialogue that's funny, or adventures that rouse.

imageThe rough guide method of processing comics is still around. There are some people for whom comics are a method of going from A to B who still want to see what they want to see in a comic rather than the comic itself. It's achieved a second life as a way one ends up looking at the comics of newer creators. When you review newer work, you want to be gentler than usual and as generous as possible in ascribing motive, comics being one of those art forms where perceived shortcomings can be intentional craft. Mostly you want to see potential. The question becomes not "is there a good comic there?" but "can I see a good comic in there?" It's a tricky path to negotiate and still stay focused on the comic itself.

All of that is the bloviator's way of saying I liked the concept of Nathan Sorry but I felt it largely lacking in execution. I think a lot of writers have been trying to find a way to tell the tried and true story of "the man everyone thinks dead" through the prism of 9/11, an event that caused several people only tangentially affected to alter their lives. The potential for poignancy seems obvious. Cartoonist Rich Barrett sets up the thriller-level plot elements capably and with a minimum of fuss. He also captures an element of that specific time where people tried to either connect themselves or push away from that event, at times using all sorts of laborious strategies. He makes the event a character without dwelling on it. A lot of Nathan Sorry seemed overly scripted, though -- the foregrounded events unfold in the way that other pieces of art unfold rather than the way observed life unfolds, if that makes any sense -- I never felt like I wasn't in a story. Some of the humor depends on stereotypes rather than observations, which is always disappointing, and there are panels that simply don't work at all in terms of bottom-line believability -- for example, a waitress leans across a table in a way that doesn't seem alluring as it does straight-up weird.

Almost everything else depends on where Nathan Sorry goes from here. I expect the panel to panel work and humor to improve ahead of what I fear may be unexceptional thematic work. It feels right now like the story may turn into one of those genre pieces about how everyone wants to leave their current, dismal life behind -- something that's not only been done to death but in my opinion is much too facile an assertion to inject interest into most narratives. I'm surprised more people don't do work in this very comics-friendly genre, though, and there are few enough works like this one out there that I think a lot of people may give it a chance before it's done.