Figures that publisher Larry Young would come up with a book like Proof of Concept (AiT/Planet Lar), a collection of comic book story concepts that’s structured like an extended telephone Pitch Meeting between Larry and his friend, “Superstar Entertainment Lawyer to the Comic Book Stars” Ken F. Levin. As he’s shown in his online writings and The Making of Astronauts in Trouble, the man’s like Penn Jillette in his seemingly compulsive need to reveal to the audience how his tricks are done – as a diversion that keeps you from noticing the even bigger, newer trick he’s about to play on ya. In Proof, Young gives us the openings to five potential graphic novels – and the high point chapters from a sixth – as a means of demonstrating how to sell comic projects to publishers and potential readers. If it’s true that the majority of hard-core comics fans have dreams of themselves some day creating comics, then Proof has a ready audience that’ll probably pay as much attention to the interstitial sequences showing Young selling his material as to the material itself.
I’ll admit I was wary approaching this book. Young may be effusive when it comes to expressing his love of the High Concept, but as a pop culture junkie with plenty of experience reading and viewing great High Concepts that made for crappy entertainments, I can’t help noting – as Larry well knows – that snappy concepts mean squat if you don’t have a solid story or memorable characters inhabiting them. Young has shown himself to be capable when it comes to all three elements, but with Proof‘s deliberately stunted presentational model, the odds of us getting all three are clearly diminished.
That’s certainly true of opening fragment “Hemoglobin,” which focuses on a future where the last “living” vampire is hunted by agents of a rich family that views the bloodsuckers as the possible key to eternal life. The twelve-page entry is all set-up that doesn’t even reveal two of its main characters (our fearless vampire hunters) ’til the last panel. Though Damion Couceiro’s art combines moodiness with a Moebius-styled futurism, there’s not enough there to do more than tickle our interest, in part due to Young’s decision to give us the basic story background through two non-essential characters, two watchers overseeing the “Vanhelsing Room.” Young piques our interest more in the follow-up phone conversation (“They probably have crosses on the soles of their boots, so when they stamp on a vampire, it hurts!”) than he does with the comic itself. That may have been his intent, but it doesn’t keep the fragment from being a frustrating read. Not as exasperating as Young & Jeff Johns’ “For the Time Being,” with its convoluted time paradox plot and indistinguishable crew of the least “rag-tag” time travelers you’ve ever seen – but pretty close.
I had more fun with “The Camera” and “Emancipating Lincoln,” two goofier concoctions that both display Young the writer’s skills at characterization more effectively and do a stronger job setting up their concepts. In “Camera,” for example, he opens with a page of two young kids shooting “Did not!” and “Did, too!” back and forth for nine straight panels – and the sequence works because it’s so recognizably kid-like. “Lincoln,” which posits a future world inhabited by Lincoln clones, is written in proto-hardboiled narration by its detective hero Henderson and has a wiggy enough premise (two Lincoln clones are inspired to uncover the secret behind their creation when one of them comes across a twenty dollar bill with the original’s picture on it) that makes you go, “How’s Young gonna write himself out of this one?” (In both cases, the artwork – by Paul Tucker and John Flynn, respectively – hampers more than sells the story.)
With “The Bod,” Young and artist John Heebink perhaps give us too much information to further pique our interest. Presenting in four chapters the rise and fall of an invisible Hollywood actress by just focusing on the high points, Young shows just enough to make his heroine unpalatable as she follows a familiar ego-swollen rise to the top – without making her subsequent fall and realization that “beauty is only skin deep” convincing. In one interstitial, we see Young and his lawyer audience discussing whether he’s made the character too unsympathetic, and perhaps the writer would address that issue in a more fleshed-out version of the story. But as a reader, I’m frankly still less inclined to want to go any further. It’s like I’ve viewed a promo that’s given more information I need, about a movie that I don’t necessarily wanna see. Perhaps the point is to prove the value of only parceling out a fraction of the story (while presenting its underlying High Concept) without giving too much away.
How much you’ll enjoy Proof of Concept probably depends on the degree to which you’re interested in the creative end of comics storytelling. It’s no surprise that most of the comics bloggers who’ve reviewed it have been favorable to it – that very interest is part of what makes them blog, after all – but my suspicion is more casual readers will find Young’s collection an ultimately maddening experience. Me, I’m glad I was given the opportunity to read it, if only for the tiny window it offers into the way one writer/publisher’s mind works. Perhaps I’ll be pitching him an idea some day. . .