I was impressed by the history behind the comic when I previously spoke to writer and artist Jason Shawn Alexander about his upcoming Image publication Empty Zone. Some readers may be aware that the comic appeared before in different forms, represents the artist’s original creator-owned idea at the age of 19, and how he’s returning to it to make it a fully fledged series and accomplish his goals many years later. I was also impressed by the promo art I saw. Alexander has a remarkable talent for conveying emotion and atmosphere and no doubt the fine-art lovers among comic readers will be wondering if any of these panels or spreads ended up on canvas. The arwork in Empty Zone appears to be multi-media, highly detailed, and in the end, appropriate to the story, quite haunting.
But it’s the combination of artwork and world of story that we should really be impressed by. Speaking in quite a pedestrian way myself, if I were approaching writing a story such as Empty Zone, one that’s set in a post-apocalyptic (or enduringly apocalyptic) world, introducing that world, the characters, and the mode of operation for those characters would probably take me an entire issue or more. Alexander takes mini-leaps between panels and presents a seamless psychological approach throughout that simply cut out any extraneous panels that would ordinarily be used for exposition. He trusts the reader to follow him and all ballast is eliminated by consequence.
It occurs to me that film makers often demand that audiences follow them in this way, dropping you an unfamiliar place where you simply “follow” characters until you understand who they are, what they are doing, and where they are headed, but Alexander takes a far preferable approach of creating enclosed spaces where he does pause long enough during short sequences for you to feel that you’re coming to terms with each scene. But within those scenes, there is a really great instinct at work for choosing details.
The world of Empty Zone is just so strange already, and we’re only through the first issue. That is tremendously exciting to me as a reader. It’s one of the things that has always attracted me to science fiction–the different textures and surface details of other planets, societies, lives, and something that makes fiction so important for introducing us to new ideas and ways of thinking.
Our central mechanically-armed female bounty-hunter character lives in a grotty, dilapidated, and presumably dangerous version of Pittsburgh, suffers from bizarrely realistic nightmares about dead friends and lovers, and is beginning to encounter something that might be far stranger than she could yet imagine. Semi-mechanized and enhanced people and dive bars she deems a “refuge” are our introduction to her outside world.
There almost seems to be a curiosity in her own facial expressions as she takes in the world around her that encourages the same sense of wonder in the reader. Everything seems strange and new in Empty Zone #1, and that’s not just the product of reader a first issue of a comic, but rather something Alexander is creating in the comic, a subtle tone, an attention to surface detail, and an atmosphere that’s building the ongoing narrative. Empty Zone is off to a very strong start, and I’m glad that Jason Shawn Alexander decided to return to this project. It seems incredibly appropriate to comics right now despite how long it’s waited to come to fruition.
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter
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