Hi-Fi Fight Club (BOOM! Box) is currently on issue #2. Nola’s feature on the nebulous drawbacks of the first issue spoke to a lot of my own feelings. We both like the book, and would (or have) recommend it as a monthly read, but we both also perceive it to be imperfect. It can feel hard to critique sisterhood-positive, queer, girl-gang books, because criticism does not hold an especially hallowed place in the culture of Diamond-distributed comics. And that has allowed the public definition of “criticism” to mutate and equate to “bizarre and hurtful negativity.” Of course, that’s an untrue sentiment. So we’re trying this out: a gentle, positivity-framed discussion of what we feel comes in under weight in this work we respect by this team we respect.
Remember when liking Iron Man was weird and old-fashioned? It’s hard to, but I do. It changed when Iron Man became “Robert Downey Jr., playing Tony Stark.” A real human person is easier to relate to than a series of drawings because a real human person can’t help but be alive and in vital motion (like you) for every second of every word in a sentence. A cartoonist working from a script has less chance of infusing immediacy into a sentence than an actor does saying it, because the construction of a page is from scratch. There is no guaranteed connection between reader and drawn image, as there is between viewer and filmed-image-of-peer. Writing for comics is a specific craft because you can’t rely on the visuals accompanying your script to have definitive humanity–cartooning doesn’t demand that–and to be a good cartoonist isn’t to necessarily force nuance into every sentence a scripter provides.
What I’m struggling with here is the elusive missing element of Hi-Fi Fight Club. Nina Vakueua (pencils) and Irene Flores (inks) team beautifully with Rebecca Nalty’s colours. It’s a very lovely comic, very expressive. It’s possible to tell through instinct whether characters are in front of a featureless wall or whether their background is being coloured to indicate their mood.
The problem is I don’t think the script does enough for the medium it’s in. Carly Usdin comes from a deep film and video background, and I can see how this script could charm coming from real human mouths. It charms half the time coming from these drawings! The set-up is cute, the romance is extremely cute, and there’s nothing wrong with this comic. It’s just there’s something, something small but bothersome (a pea in my princess bed) not right with it either.
Throwaway sentences like “I have a few questions…” don’t work in a comic when the questions are never asked. In live action, the unspoken questions could melt away visibly, but in a comic the reader has to go back after the scene has finished and complete the “acting” in their own mind. Likewise, for the naysayers against Dolores’ naysaying, the layout of the page isn’t a problem. It could be followed in gist without words, but with the words the exchange feels like an unfinished skit. Something about the rhythm feels off. This might be something to half-drop on the letterer, a speech bubble on either side of our protagonist, below, would feel more natural to me. I certainly don’t think Usdin is a “bad writer,” but I do think that this feels like the first-comic that it is.
I’m still trying to work out exactly what it is about this comic. In my review of the first issue, I commented about how it isn’t really what it was billed to me as, and about how for all that it has, the specific designation of 1998, it lacks some of the cultural context of that era to really cement it into place. It’s a comic titled “Fight Club” in a year before the movie with that same title came out. That has it operating in a nebulous space, because it doesn’t define the phrase the way our culture has defined it in the near twenty years since–this is more Scooby Doo than Fight Club, albeit stripped of the spookier contexts.
Issue #2 seems to lean too far in the other direction. It wants to make references so badly that it reaches for them in the strangest locations. A panel of Chris tucking her hair back and nervously repeating “Cool” to herself in a small voice is eerily reminiscent of Andy Samberg’s occasions of mild panic on the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is more than a little anachronistic. Later, Maggie talks about Shirley Manson owing Irene a favor. We know that Garbage was a big act in 1998, it’s certainly conceivable that they might play the odd secret show at a small indie record store, even, but “Whoa, look at this real life rock star, she owes us a favor,” is maybe just a little cutesy for my tastes.
Those kinds of things snap me right back out of a story, and that’s frustrating here, because it’s so very easy to get mired in the lives of these girls. They’re so earnest, so serious and invested in everything that they do that I can’t help but like them. Even now, I want to read more, while being frustrated by those little, mounting things, one after another. As Claire said, it feels very much like a first-time comic–it has the bones of something truly great in it, but it still needs a little more fine tuning. “Stegosour” is a top-notch band name, though.