Gordon McAlpin is the creator of Multiplex, a webcomic about the staff at a neighborhood theater. I first encountered McAlpin's work when he was creating the short nonfiction comic pieces under the banner of Stripped Books. Those works, although perhaps dated now were a clue that McAlpin had ambitions to create quality work. So I was a reader of Multiplex from the beginning (ComixTalk has interview McAlpin twice, once in 2006 and once in 2008). McAlpin recently put out a book collecting the first year of the webcomic, titled Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show: Book One.
The comic has gotten better and better as McAlpin's writing and art has tightened up (reading the book which collects the first year confirms that, especially on the art side). I think it's also helped that over time it's clear that the comic is about people who work at a movie theater first and about movies and movie culture second (that wasn't always obvious in earlier years as I think Multiplex got lumped in with other "movie" webcomics that are really about movies more than their characters). I actually care about the main character Jason – a cranky, suffer-no-fools, movie snob – and like any good story, McAlpin pulls Jason through some highs and lows, disappointment and surprises. I suspect, although I've never met McAlpin in person, that he probably identifies with Jason more than any other character in the comic, but even so McAlpin doesn't hesitate to make Jason look bad as much as he lets him enjoy an ocasional victory.
Multiplex the webcomic has been around now for more than five years. In that time, a whole host of supporting characters have been added to the cast at the Multiplex 10. I give McAlpin a lot of credit here – he's shown a pretty measured pace of introducing new characters, a willingness to experiment with new elements to the comic and for the most part in a way that doesn't feel gimmicky or overwhelming (One particular supporting character, the "Blogger," pretty much sold me on the strip — not that I identified completely with the character but…). If you scan the cast page, there are a number of forgettable characters (including pretty much the entire staff of Flickhead Video) but there are a lot of great characters that have been added to the cast like Devi Trevedi,the security officer James Harris, and the almost-evil manager Norma Fiorelli.
It in some ways is surprising that it's over 5 years into the comic that McAlpin has put together a book collection, but it's a fantastic collection of the first year of the comic. The print collection, Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show: Book One, is really nicely done. McAlpin ran a really organized Kickstarter campaign to pre-sell the book and it's fantastic that it gave him the time to put this together. The webcomic didn't lend itself to a standard print format and McAlpin had a lot of extra art (he often posted extra art and short comics as incentives for various top vote websites) he worked into the book as well. You wouldn't know that from the book as it pretty seamlessly flows together.
The book covers the introduction of the main characters, Jason, his friend Kurt, Kurt's girlfriend Melissa, Becky and Franklin. Becky doesn't get a ton to do in the first year but she becomes a much more interesting character in later years of the comic. And for all of the screen time that Kurt and Melissa get in Multiplex, neither of them has ever really emerged as strong enough characters to me. Franklin also gets better material in later years of the comic but does get off some good lines in the book. One of the difficulties of translating a serialized webcomic to print is deciding what part of the archives to publish first and also how that material translates into a book where there are inevitably some expectations that the book represents a coherent narrative structure.
I think it was probably a tough call but necessary to start at the beginning with Multiplex. It's a story-driven comic and moments that are really well done all have their roots in the first year. Jason and Devi's romance is one of the big storylines of the book and their later storylines together are some of my favorites. Becky's crush on Jason is almost unnoticeable in the book but is key to several later storylines. The downside is the art is not as good as it gets in later years. It really is good now in a way that it wasn't the first year. Still, it's always been more enough so other than the very first few comics, there's nothing to cringe over. And the writing started off in an even stronger place. I think if anything McAlpin had to figure out how to write in different characters voices — he's not quite figured it out in the first year and while there are plenty of funny jokes they don't always serve to deepen characterization. McAlpin does use some cliches in building characters but again, this is most apparent in the earlier years of the comic. It's also interesting to look back and to see how much the comic doesn't suffer all that much from topical movie references. There are a few – the Crank comic in particular, doesn't really hold up too well – but mostly McAlpin kept movie references within the context of his characters lives and avoided getting too deep into the specifics of movies that most of us wouldn't remember well enough to get the joke.
The book has an introduction from both McAlpin and the real Kurt Bollinger who apparently helped suggest the idea for the comic and was a template for the character of Kurt. There's also an introduction from McAlpin too and a new 14 page story to kick things off. The new story is a good idea — it gives you a much more polished start to the book than the actual first comic of Multiplex which appears on page 17.
The comic should appeal to fans of popular movies and movie culture but it also provides a lot of workplace humor that transcends its setting. You've worked with some of these people no matter where you work. The book is well done and it is a wonderful introduction (or reintroduction) to the start of the comic.
The author provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.