Frontier #12, Kelly Kwang, Youth In Decline, May 2016Frontier #12: Kelly Kwang

Kelly Kwang
Youth In Decline
May, 2016

When I recommend Frontier to people, I say that it’s an anthology of comics and art books by interesting indie cartoonists. This issue, Kelly Kwang’s first published work, is a bit more art book than illustrated story. It’s still a comic, though, so don’t worry. This is a story by way of design and world building, a story by the way, that unfolds as you learn about this place and these people—how they look, how they function. A story in the details, not the action. You know how fans build alternate universes out of GIF sets and inspiration posts? A series of textures, concepts, minor, and contained actions paired with scant explanation slowly becoming a place, with history, a story. Or the way that a fashion ad campaign, with gradient differences in outfits, poses, and setting can tell an imagistic story absent of some of the big “story” markers like a sensible plot? That’s how this comic art book works—a story more about detail and vibe than action.

Frontier #12 doesn’t have publication information. Instead, it aims for an immersive experience. The cover is wraparound, and the comic begins with the end papers. The comic is a “Let’s Play” of an imaginary game, loaded up with cut scenes and other non-gameplay game elements. You, reader, will be playing as a Youth Space Cadet. To win this game, you need Strength, Courage, Perseverance, and most importantly, Love.

Frontier #12, p3, Kelly Kwan, Youth In Decline

You will learn how Space Youth Cadets are equipped, what their divisions and jobs are, and what their lives are like through their murals and slogans and the secret poetry they write each other. The “game” doesn’t really go anywhere, though, much like the plot never thickens. Instead you get impressions of a game as much as you get impressions of a world within the game. It’s a nonlinear comic, but it’s not a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story with multiple but structured reading/playing paths. As reader, you get no closer to what it’s like to play the game of Space Youth Cadets than you do the plot of it. But it’s not a triple “A” game, that’s for sure.

You flip pages. Files within Space Youth Cadets open and close. Pay attention to the beautiful images and kitschy-cute details, like joints made out of happy faces, eyes made out of ringed planets and stars, scars turning into third eyes (and turning back into scars), words crossed out by hand in computer files, and everywhere as much texture and layer possible contrasted with faces made from spare lines and shadow. Courage, strength, perseverance, love—choose your friends wisely, and beware connectivity issues that can keep you and tear you apart. Slogans and kernels of advice pepper Space Youth Cadets—their files, their spaces, their bodies, the game, the story, the comic—and they’re both affirmational pep and teasing question. The aesthetic is like the imagistic paragraph on the GIF set and the obscure slogan on the poster. It’s the great meaning we build in the space between.

Youth Space Cadets doesn’t end, exactly. It wraps up with a slogan and a loading/saving/closing screen. Space Youth Cadets nuzzling that malleable internet stuff—their universe—and drifting into sleep. The universe roots 4 U, and so does this sweet comic. Goodnight.