…and when Litchfield pulls out a gun out of nowhere in comic 97 amidst the flames of the burning theater while Author and a pregnant-but-not-really Kate stand at his lunatic mercy on center stage, you can’t help but feel both torn and satisfied – as if this had to happen, no matter how much you grew attached to…
Wait. Perhaps it’s best if we start this review at the opening credits.
It all starts with Brian Carroll’s independent production, Instant Classic, appearing on an erratic schedule in 2003 and flickering onwards through to the present. The first story arc somehow loosely involves the two cinemaphile protagonists – Author and Kate – and a film festival competition, though most of this 100-strip arc is used more to develop the character interaction than to further a plot.
As for actual plot, well – no great epic story progressions have occured to date. However, lots is said and accomplished within the comic, even if on the surface, "nothing big really happens". Picture this as a Kevin Smith-esque movie – where ideas fly aplenty and the clever dialogue rules the screen, even if all that transpires is a day in the life at a
convenience store strip mall movie theater.
In fact, one could put forth that the entire webcomic so far revolves around a menagerie of well-developed stock characters, and how they interact with each other against the backdrop of a movie theater and the movie-making industry in general. Wait yet again – how can a character be both stock and well-developed, you ask?
The characters are stock, because they are given one main personality trait and/or one primary function to set them apart from the rest of the cast, and not much more: Author is the serious and sober "down-to-earth" foil to Kate’s flighty chaos of non-stop extroverted idea and expression. Sean (Author’s older brother) is a chain-smoking lady-killer in a suit, and Magelle is the wise and clever concession stand bartender who’s ready with advice and the perfect soda concoctions to cure your ails.
And then there‘s Litchfield. Best you discover him on your own.
The characters are well-developed in the sense that Carroll takes each of these unidimensional traits and shapes them craftily with engaging dialogue and a keen sense of subtle, clever humor. By the third comic of the series, you already have a good sense of Kate and Author’s personalities; combined with Carroll’s penchant for dialogue and wit, you are set in the right movie frame of mind to WANT to go on from there.
It doesn’t matter that you don’t know about Kate’s family or background, or what she likes to eat for breakfast. It makes no difference whether Author was traumatized as a child, or had a dog named Sue, or had to go through a difficult drug addiction phase. Just like in a two-hour film, the characters need to be kept simple so that they can serve as vessels for dialogue and plot. To try to flesh them out too much would require a dozen two-hour films, or a dozen dozen – and who has time for that? Carroll keeps his characters uncomplicated, and it works.
The art of Instant Classic likewise serves a similar film-storytelling purpose: it’s simple, subtle, and stylized, allowing for maximum expression and minimum interference from realism. The colors are nicely muted, with Carroll using mostly greys and earth tones in expert fashion – just like you don’t want to distract the reader with too much character information, you don’t want readers to be diverted by overly punchy art. An added bonus to using a muted palette: it makes the use of vibrant color much more meaningful and impactful when it happens. It has to be noted that there are a few really nice BW (noir-esque?) strips in the mix, too.
It makes sense that much of the layout (especially in the beginning) consists of talking heads cut off at the waist – dialogue is the name of the game, not pretty poses or action. That said, when action is needed, or functional visuals of any sort are required, Carroll proves that he can step up to the task.
Overall, Instant Classic is like a great indie film. You’re not always quite sure where it’s going, but it always keeps you entertained, engaged, and wanting more.
Like any quality indie film, the production values themselves are usually not as important as the gem of an idea behind it. So what if this webcomic doesn’t update daily, or have uber-realistic art, or cut-and-dry simple storylines, or a massive mainstream following of amateur executive producers tossing dollars and cents in the creator’s general direction?
With its second story arc just now beginning (and how’s this for proof that Carroll is actually planning his strips out beforehand – the main[?] character in this second arc appears one time in the middle of the first story arc, telling Magelle that he will have a story to share "in due time"…), Instant Classic has got what it takes to be a sleeper hit in the webcomics world. It may not fully appeal to the mainstream, but it will win over the critics and develop a strong cult audience. Perhaps it will get even more popularity and acclaim in the years to come.
It’s got that certain indefinable something that makes it… well, a Classic.