For those of you who don't know what a moped is, check out the Moped Army <a href = "http://www.mopedarmy.com/">website</a>. Basically, a moped is a reinforced bicycle with a 50cc engine that cruises you around at a top speed of about 30 miles per hour, and it has pedals in case the engine stops. If you don't know the difference between a moped and a scooter, it's really easy. Mopeds are bad-ass bicycles while scooters are motorcycles for pussies.
At Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo in 1997, three students got together and formed an organization. Part biker gang and part fan club, they named themselves The Decepticons after the Transformers toys, and the Moped Army was born. Simon King, Daniel Robert Kastner, and Brennan Sang, the originators of the Moped Army, have seen their brainchild blossom into a national moped club, with chapters from Arizona to Washington State. But this is merely back story.
In 2003, comics creator and fellow WMU student Paul Sizer started working on his newest project. Sizer tabled his ongoing series Little White Mouse, in favor of the less demanding schedule of a graphic novel, and thus was born the subject of this review.
Paul Sizer takes well to the graphic novel format. Moped Army is a graphic gem that is impossible to put down once it's started. Sizer is that rare talent of a storyteller that can take the most innocuous of ideas and make them sing with magic, wit, and power. In this instance the plot hook is a spoiled little rich girl who has a crisis of conscience and falls in with the right crowd. Deeper beneath the surface of this slightly cliched plot hook, lies a study in class warfare and a revelatory tale about what happens when those societal lines are crossed.
The story is laid out for us by Simone. She's part of the upscale rich who have built their lives, literally, on the wreckage that they've left behind for everybody else. Through Simone, Sizer gives us a guided tour of their spangled misery, as we learn that being uber-rich doesn't really save us from our all too human emotions. Simone's life changes when an evening joyride with her asshole boyfriend and his gang, crashes head-on into The Moped Army. Tragedy ensues, and later Simone starts to alienate herself from her shallow, vapid "friends" as she tries to find some sort of redemption by "slumming it" with the people that live below her city in the sky. Eventually she finds acceptance and possibly even friendship as she's adopted by the very same people that she'd earlier stood by and watched as they were terrorized.
Sizer's well-honed grasp of characterization serves him perfectly as he effortlessly mixes Simone, his redemptive character, into the stew of wildly different personalities the moped army represents. More than just mere character archetypes, the different army members quickly establish their own personalities, and Sizer layers in countless seeds for future stories as bits and pieces of their histories are revealed.
While Simone searches for some sense of self-worth, we are treated to stunning visuals of life in the year 2277, courtesy of Sizer's amazing pencils. He combines the stellar design work of a veteran graphic artist with an amazing knack for facial expression and movement. He gives us everything a speculative fiction fan could want, from grandiose cityscape vistas, to a rotting dilapidated under city, to insanely neat gadgets. In one sequence, Sizer brilliantly pits a futuristic air car against a 20th-century moped. It's a scene reminiscent of the freeway chase in The Matrix, and it's absolutely brilliantly drawn.
Sizer's greatest strength as a writer and an artist is his ability to create deep, fully believable characters. He brings that talent full throttle with Moped Army, creating a large cast of characters where even the bit players are interesting and absolutely believable. He takes fewer risks with his artwork in Moped Army, preferring instead to concentrate on designing believable characters, and making the cityscape as realistic as he can. It works well enough to give the story a cohesion and a sense of familiarity that has the effect of putting you at ease in the midst of an uncomfortable story.
As a graphic novel, Moped Army is a sweet package. You get 120 pages of story, galleries, sketchbook pages, plus short bios of Simon King and Daniel Robert Kastner, the brains behind the real-life version of the moped army. It's an expanded dance version of a DVD, and it's well worth the measly $12.95 Sizer's charging for it. The graphic novel is rated Mature(16+) because it has some language, and a bit of sexual content, but it's nothing your average teen-ager can't handle. Moped Army is available online from Paul's website or from finer comic book stores near you.