July 30, 2007
CR Review: Full Color
Mark Haven Britt
Image, soft cover, 176 pages, July 2007, $15.99
Mark Haven Britt's Xeric-sponsored graphic novel gets points for going in a completely different direction than the majority of today's original longer narratives. A blend of crime and relationship dramas, Full Color
trades in a kind of heightened reality, a vividness of character type, that is more common to film and stage plays. Perhaps the best thing about it is that Britt ably captures that moment in a young person's life when things are starting to lock in and settle down, the hideousness of day to day living begins slapping you in the face hard enough to leave a mark, social interaction still has the mocha swirl look of one's college and post-college days, and, maybe for the first time, events have consequences.
also puts on display a curious blend of character worship that you most often see in film and TV. Nearly everyone turns out to be special in some slightly artificial and hard to believe way, like Britt fed his script pages through a Sorkintron. There are some pleasures in that. For instance, his most overtly larger than life character is a ex-Marine ass-kicking African-American female painter named Boom. As one can count the number of super-assertive cool female black protagonists in comics history on one healthy foot and another foot ravaged by frostbite, it's good to see one more. That doesn't make her a less ridiculously over the top character. Some characters, particularly minor ones, kind of blend into the background, or, given the spotlight, grate with overly precious set pieces, like a psychologist that rips one of her former patients in a way that feels like a staged guest appearance rather than organic to the plot.
Mostly, though, it might have been smart for Britt to scale back his book's ambition in terms of its visual approach. Some of the individual images are rich and even occasionally lovely, but many are muddy. The setting never comes alive in a consistent fashion. When Britt drops backgrounds to concentrate on one or two characters it somehow feels like the world has been cleared of all other humans. As you can see from the cover image, sometimes the characters lack heft and volume, and appear more like refrigerator magnets placed against a background than real-life human beings that exist within a world. Some effects designed to drag our eyes across two-page spreads fail miserably, and you have to stay extremely invested panel to panel to always keep up with the dialog flow and the visual narrative. Speaking of dialog, count me in on those that think typesetting one's text is almost always a bad idea. It's distracting visually, for one thing, it's sort of unlovely, and Britt punts the opportunity to use that tool to draw distinctions between his characters. Some of the word balloons here aren't even well-placed. If Britt's creative roles were characters in the comic, the writer would be one of the more assured ones, and the artist would be one of those that's in trouble and seeking help. To use the old saw, Britt the writer cash checks on which Britt the artist can't make good.
If Britt can avoid biting off more than he can chew and continues to improve his craft, I think he could be around a while. The other complaints, well, once you make a story about a bunch of friends, you usually stop making stories about a bunch of friends. It's a rite of passage no less problematic than that experienced by the characters in the book, and Britt is likely much better off getting his out of the way early.
posted 1:00 pm PST
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