Friday, January 11, 2008

Kinetic Electric

Kinetic Electric is precisely what it appears to be: a self-produced effort by an untested yet talented sequential artist. Saint, also known as Alan Hemphill, premiered his graphic novel at MINT Gallery last Saturday. Rendered in pen and brushed in savage, sometimes oppressive sumi ink, Saint's science fiction brainchild is promising but a little rough around the edges.

Flipping through its 32 pamphlet-sized pages, the book tells the story of a punk rock chick who wants to play God. Before biking out to market to buy robot parts, the unnamed girl narrates, "I will gyrate to the orgasmic throbs of Mary Shelly.” Bursting at the seams with raw energy, statements like that characterize the project as a whole. Kinetic Electric’s enthusiasm helps forgive its shortcomings.

The world Saint envisions is, in his words, an “Orwellian wet dream.” The flavor is pure cyberpunk, borrowing imagery from The Matrix and comic titles like Ghost in the Shell or Transmetropolitan. The future is dirty. Technology thrives like an ambiguous cancer, and everyone is still in search of their own personal gods, their next “big fix.” Additions like advertisements in Hindi script and shots of Buddhist monks with neural implants are a nice touch. Saint comments that the urban decay was also inspired by life experience, living homeless on the streets of New York.

Our would-be Mary Shelly covers herself with "holo-film tattoo spray." The substance turns her skin into a living television screen (using nanotechnology perhaps?). The convention allows Saint to decorate his lead girl with a different exotic tattoo in every panel. The reader is left wanting a little more exposition about gadgets like “holo-film” and the mysterious “uncertainty engine."

And you have to wonder: “Why the hell is she building this robot?” The answer is, it seems, out of sheer boredom. The twist is that technology is so common almost anyone can scrounge the parts to create artificial life. Future Kinetic issues will develop the melodrama further: this new android consciousness awakens to discover an imperfect creator who had nothing better to do with her Saturday night.

Riffing in a violent, almost Dadaist fashion, the writing is chiefly concerned with attitude: “This is the birth pain of ball driven Tantric super science bashing the head meat of god, gyrating in the soft warm centers of its heavy thunder and pouring lightning.” The style is immediate like high-powered automatic writing, but the type needs some editing. Plus there's little to break up the adrenaline pitch.

Kinetic's story text follows the drawings on separate pages in irregular order, so unfortunately, you never quite know when to turn forward or back. In one scene, the girl tries to haggle a price with a market robot. It made me laugh, but it really took a second look for the sequence to make sense. Framed panels may not solve the problem, but just a slight modification will make things easier on the eyes.

With so many conflicting forces, I know the balancing act is daunting: image vs. text, the printed product vs. the quality of each original, etc. When working with less than a shoestring budget, you can’t expect amenities like custom framing or high quality printing. And it’s too bad since the guy is really good with color; just check out Saint’s myspace.

Kinetic Electric has the first main ingredient for creating a great pulp story, what Warren Ellis calls that “true seed of madness.” Otherwise, it just needs some polish.


No comments: