Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show
The best-known webcomic about movies, Multiplex by Gordon McAlpin, will release its first book collection this week. Enjoy Your Show is available for order from the website.
It contains the first 102 strips (which ran July 2005 – November 2006) with some art revisions and cleanup, plus a new 12-page story set on the opening night of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (authorized by Lucasfilm, according to the author). The bonus comics previously available in the PDF ebooks McAlpin sold are also included.
Books are a great way to catch up with well-known webcomics, but I am beginning to wonder about the strategy behind them. By the time a strip builds the audience that wants and can support these kinds of print collections, several years have gone by. Should reprint books always start with the first strips? Well, that’s a question outside the scope of this review. In this particular case, the early start means that the film references are outdated, but since the strip is really about the soap opera that happens among the staff of this particular multi-screen movie theater and how frustrating their customers can be, that’s not too much of a detriment.
As a new reader, I would have appreciated more context from the author. The introduction (by a friend of McAlpin’s who actually worked in a theater and suggested the concept) and foreword by McAlpin provide some background on the strip’s origin, but the book starts right up with a Prequel (the new story mentioned above). I didn’t realize until I read the accompanying press release that this was even a new story. It’s intended to introduce the cast all in one place, but that’s a lot of similar-costumed characters to take in. I would have preferred a more traditional text explanation of the premise and characters, or a story without such an outdated punching bag.
Because there’s no table of contents, I didn’t realize until finishing the book that there are character bios in the back. Other extras include a strip about how McAlpin creates the strip, using his templates from Illustrator, and guest strips he’s done for other webcomics. I’d have been more into the new opening if I’d previously been following the strip online, which is probably the more likely audience for this book. I mention feeling uncomfortable about the beginning material and the book’s structure because the author has said he’d like to get more bookstore distribution, and for that audience, this kind of concern may be more of a stumbling block.
In honor of today being a made-up holiday, here’s a strip excerpt in which Kurt takes down a film pirate. The distinctively flat style is reminiscent of a grown-up South Park. McAlpin doesn’t use black lines to surround his characters or elements, so sometimes, depending on colors, foreground elements fade into the background. (A girl’s blonde hair against a tan wall, or the staff’s red vests against burgundy theater seats.) The art is often static, with strips driven by dialogue. It took me a while to get used to reading it, and at first I had to pay close attention to the hair colors and styles to tell the characters apart.
The comics are accompanied by short author notes, which I always appreciate. They mention how he feels about the art or the techniques used or comment on the characters or the movie references or give some history about how that strip was created. Because the comics don’t have a set length (number of panels), the layout is continuous. By that I mean, strip A may take a full page, while B may take only 2/3rds and C runs from the bottom of B’s page to the top of the next. Since the panels are most often basic rectangle pictures, with few artistic effects or panel-to-panel connections, this is rarely a problem. I just don’t think I’ve ever seen a strip collection before that splits single comics across a page turn.
Overall, the book didn’t win me over, by which I mean I’m not subscribing to the webcomic, but I don’t regret the time spent reading it. I do feel like I know the cast better and get the jokes about their personalities (stereotypical as some of them are — the white-boy black wannabe, particularly). If you work retail in some fashion or like jokes about what’s playing at the local theater, then you’re a better match for it than I am. (The author provided a review copy.)