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Awakening Comics #0 by Steve Peters, reviewed by Xaviar Xerexes

Back in January of this year, I reviewed Runner's Paradox by Steve Peters.  I think it's fair to say I didn't love it.  Very recently, I received a review copy of Peters' newest book, Awakening Comics #0You can read a preview of it here.

Peters describes the issue as "a precursor to [his] Xeric Award-winning series, Awakening Comics.  It covers its creator's entire artistic life, from birth to the time period in which the first issue came out in 1997.  It is a prequel issue that sets up the events of Awakening Comics and casts them in a new light."  I haven't read the rest of the Awakening Comics series so my take on the main story in this issue, "Beginnings" is based solely on reading it alone (There's also a second story in the issue -- a jam comic from 1993 that takes up the last 8 pages of the issue, but I couldn't make heads or tails of it and it doesn't appear to have anything to do with "Beginnings").  I don't know if reading the whole series would change my mind about this story, but I doubt it. 

In a nutshell, there's an interesting idea here, but it's not executed well enough. 

It seems to me that Peters is interested in nostalgia and childhood and memory.  The story, such as it is, starts off with a spaceship coming out of a wormhole in space.  Through the appearance of various versions of Peters in the comic, we learn that that the crew of the spaceship and other characters are characters he created growing up making comics.  And we get to see a lot of the comics the younger Peters actually made when he was quite young.  The characters talk to each other briefly about the comics they're going to make or have made.   There's not much more going on then that despite some quasi-biblical narrative language floating around.

Like the last book from Peters I reviewed, this is the result of a 24 hour comic effort and you just really wish he'd treated it as the rough draft and went back and reworked the thing.  There's certainly an interesting initial notion here -- bringing together various versions of you, the creator, into a comic and then tying all of the characters to these versions of you, the creator, but you just wish Peters had built an actually interesting structure on that foundational premise.  Here besides fairly bland art from the "present" (and what can you say about the grade school art except that I really do believe it's his grade school art) and the basic idea of characters from various stages of his life (including versions of himself) meeting up, there just isn't any there there.  Peters includes in the story his first published comic work - a page that appeared in Dave Sims Cerebus #146 and I can see how that experience and memory must be incredibly important to Peters.  But it doesn't mean it's important to the rest of us.

 

Note: The creator provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.

Reply to Steve Peters

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

Steve,

Thanks for your comment. I can honestly say I read it with an open mind and I don't think, even with my lukewarm reaction to your previous comic, that I decided anything about the book before reading it (reading it more than once actually).

I think your explanation in this comment of what you were trying to achieve in your comic goes to my reaction that there's an interesting idea here, but I'll just repeat that I think it's not executed well enough in the comic itself.  My there isn't any there there comment also goes to the fact that despite the possibility of an interesting idea, the experience of reading what you put on the page didn't come together for me.

 

 

 

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: A.C. #0

Xavier,

Fair enough.  I forgot to mention that I DID appreciate your taking the time to read the comic, and was impressed that you posted the review so soon after receiving it.

I think that most of the things I mentioned in my explanation of the comic were things that are self-evident when one reads it.  I only outlined these points for the benefit of someone who reads your review and hasn't seen the comic.  In my opinion, the remark that "there's not much more going on than that despite some quasi-biblical narrative language floating around" is made in a casual way that may cause the reader of the review to infer that the "quasi-biblical narrative", i.e. scriptural quotations, are thrown into the story in a haphazard way, for no particular reason.  That's the type of comment that led me to infer that you'd decided ahead of time that you didn't like the comic.  I apologize if you were more impartial in your reading than I gave you credit for.

Yours,

Steve Peters
Awakening Comics

 

Re: Awakening Comics #0

You have some valid points in that amateur/grade school art, jam comics, surreal comics, and 24-hour comics, with their necessarily rushed, loose, and improvised execution are not for everyone.  Combining all 4 in one comic can be, for someone who doesn't care for these things, a lethal combination.  But I think to say there's no substance in my comic is unfair.  It seems to me, from the tone and contact of your review, that you had decided you weren't going to like it before you even read it.

I'll start with the back-up piece, which you said you couldn't make heads or tails of.  The story is a dream.  It made sense to do it as a jam comic, since, as I state in introduction to the back cover jam with Joe Matt, jams, like dreams, often have surreal, stream-of-consciousness aspects.  It opens with a quote from George Bernard Shaw: "Every dream is a prophecy; every jest is an earnest in the womb of time."  Of course, you haven't read the other issues, but the dream does foretell events that come to a head in Awakening Comics #3.

Awakening Comics, the series, is about the characters I've created over time---as a child, as a teenager, as a young man.  The Starship Paradox, which appears in the main story, "Beginnings," with its crew made up of characters from the various time periods of Awakening Comics, IS Awakening Comics.  It doesn't just travel through a wormhole, it travels back to view the beginning of time.

The "quasi-biblical narrative language floating around" isn't JUST floating around.  It's quoted by me, the old man version of me, who, unlike the younger me's, is only able to communicate with the crew via their viewscreens.  He is quoting from the Book of Genesis.  When he quotes, "And there was light," I'm drawing a visual parallel between that verse and the Big Bang.

Two pages later, the old me makes a quote about the Spirit of God moving the face of the waters.  We see a sperm, then my birth.  I'm making an analogy between the Big Bang and the orgasm that created me.  While the story is about me specifically, there is a broader implication.  Every orgasm that created every one of us is a reflection of the original Big Bang.

As three versions of me, child, teen, and young man, appear in turn, the old me from the distant future is the one who is transmitting images of artwork appropriate to each version.  We learn about the genesis of each group of characters that will feature in Awakening Comics.

The appearance of my work in Cerebus was indeed important to me, as it helped propel me further into getting my career forward.  But it's appearance here is relevant to the STORY, in several ways.  It is another beginning for me, which is the theme of the piece.  It is the first published appearance of one of the characters of Awakening Comics.  Finally, at that point of the story, the child and teenage me are angrily confronting the young adult me, because they have just found out their older counterpart has changed or destroyed some of their characters.  The old, smarter version of me presents the Cerebus page because he knows these young selves will be easily distracted by seeing their first published work, thus defusing the situation.

You say that I think my Cerebus piece should be important to the reader, as though I'm vainly saying, "look, here's my first published work; what a great piece of history!!!".  Actually, the weak art and page design makes me cringe.  It is included because it is part of the story I am telling.

Awakening Comics is about a life.  It happens to be my life, because I have much better documentation of my life than anyone else's.  By showing a creative life over time, we can see how a person changes and grows.  The old me is clearly religious, with his quotations of scripture.  His beliefs may have even become dogmatic.  In order to return the ship to its proper time/space frame, he urges the three younger selves to gather hands and pray.  The teenage self says, "But I'm not sure if I believe in God."  Clearly a change has happened over the course of his life. 

Finally, in the last panel, we see that the old me has possibly tricked the others---he may even be a good guy at all, in the end.  That raises some as-yet unanswered questions---do I become a trickster/bad guy when I get old?  Is it even me at all?  I might not even make it to old age.

I think there's a lot going on in this comic.  Just because you might've been predisposed to not liking it doesn't mean there's not more "there" there than you were willing to see.