As a storytelling medium that I’ve enjoyed for four decades of my life, I’m finding it less and less engaging.
It’s been several years that I’ve been to a comic shop on a weekly basis; preferring to buy stuff digitally or wait for a collection down the line. In fact, I find looking at most comic racks kind of depressing; a display of intellectual properties in development.
Creator owned stuff is certainly my preference, but with the success of Image, BOOM!, Dark Horse, IDW and to a certain extent, Dynamite, the number of choices can be overwhelming. And as a result, I find myself underwhelmed.
Seth Kushner has had a rough year; I’m not going to go into his health issues that anyone familiar with his work can tell you. Let’s just say, we’re happy that he’s still here. My familiarity with Seth’s work initially came from his photographs. He’s an amazing photographer and his work is always fresh and exhilarating. He’s also incredibly generous, allowing me to use his work on the site whenever I’ve asked.
I became a fan of his writing, through his webcomic, Schmuck, a raw and very funny autobiographically inspired strip that regularly made me laugh out loud.
Which brings us to his latest project, Seth Kusher’s Secret Sauce Comix Vol. 1.
Underneath the bold blue and orange cover, Secret Sauce Comix did the seemingly impossible; it jolted my system, re-booting my love for the graphic narrative by capturing the element that most comics seem to be missing these days.
The first story is “The Brooklynite in ‘A Man of His Word'” which features art by Shamus Beyale and colors by Frank Reynoso. It’s light and fun and reminiscent of an old school Marvel mistaken identity/secret identity tale.
The art by Beyale is fantastic (it reminded me a bit of a cross between Erik Larsen and Duncan Fegredo) and the colors by Reynoso truly make the art pop off the page.
But it’s Kushner’s writing that shines here. He’s certainly aware of the tropes that he’s embracing and instead of the more modern approach of overthinking or attempting to make a costumed hero “believable,” Kushner just allows the story to breathe and in all honesty, in just six pages (with two full page splashes), he creates a character and story I want to read more of.
Sure, hipsters are the bane of everyone and Kushner is smart enough to make one the bad guy.
The book’s highlight for me was it’s second story, “Youtopia,” which runs for thirteen pages is breathtaking. Artist Charles Stewart illustrated and presumably colored this installment which follows a futuristic assassin and her handler on a job.
What’s interesting about “Youtopia” is that it feels like the last few minutes of a long narrative. If this were a movie, this would be the last few scenes, depicting the ending and then the set-up for the upcoming sequel.
Stewart’s art is both clean and detail heavy; at times reminiscent of Geof Darrow or Aeon Flux’s Peter Chung. But the coloring is where Stewart shines. Utilizing some extremely bold colors and virtually no computer effects (focusing instead on flat colors similar to Dave Stewart’s Hellboy), “Youtopia” is stunning and unlike anything else I’ve seen in recent memory.
According to the introduction, “Youtopia” is a prologue to a longer work; one that I can’t wait to read.
The next three stories are all photocomix.
The first, is a two page profile of the late genius Harvey Pekar. It’s photographed by Seth and is based on an interview conducted by his frequent collaborator Christopher Irving and edited by Jeff Newelt and Dean Haspiel.
It’s a wonderful tribute.
In the photo comic “Heyday,” a grandfather recounts his heroic exploits as the crimefighter ,The Insomniac, to his granddaughter. When his nemesis, The Creepy Crawler returns, will The Insomniac as well?
I’m not usually a fan of photo comics.
I like the concept, but they never seem to “work” for me. Often, a photograph feels staged and worse, resonates as false emotions.
Here, however, Kusher and collaborator Dean Haspiel, use that additional level of ‘performance” to heighten the drama.
There’s a very sharp use of color, in particular in flashbacks.
I can’t say this converted me to become a fan of the medium, but I can certainly appreciate the work. I’m not quite sure what photography brings to the story rather than traditional illustration, but here, for whatever reason, it works.
The last story, “Costumed Characters,” is another collaboration between Kushner and Haspiel, and my thoughts on the execution are pretty much the same as in “Heyday.”
I’m not really sure what the photo comics bring to the storytelling. With superheroes becoming the norm of television and film, a vision limited by a low budget isn’t particularly exciting.
The addition of the sound effects are a nice touch, but we saw this almost fifty years ago on Batman and they seem far more effective there.
It’s silly and colorful, but unfortunately it’s the least interesting story in the book for me. Regardless of execution of the story as a photo comic not appealing to me, it’s a fun little tale.
Secret Sauce Comix Vol. 1 is a wonderful taste of Kushner’s talents and is so full of energy and enthusiasm, it’s not hard to feel excited about the medium. My favorite two stories, “The Brooklynite” and “Youtopia” are both incredibly entertaining and I look forward to reading more stories set in both of these worlds soon.
Secret Sauce Comix Vol. 1 is available in these select stores:
You can also purchase Secret Sauce Comix Vol. 1 directly from Seth at conventions, starting with Grand Comics Fest in Brooklyn on June 6th. See sethkushner.com for more details.