What I really like about comics is that sometimes, amidst all of the fluff and fun, they help the reader understand something, whether about themselves or about the world or the life that they inhabit. Sometimes that thing is a profound and deep thing, and sometimes it’s something very simple or basic. For instance, Hi-Fi Fight Club #1 helped me understand that I’ve made the shift toward someone who prefers trades and collections over single issues.
Everything that’s here is good, it’s just that there’s not enough of it. The comic’s been billed to me as “Empire Records meets Fight Club” and while it may certainly grow into that pitch, it clearly hasn’t hit that point yet. Empire Records is a movie with an entire scene built around a quarter glued to the floor, and another where an acid trip causes shock metal band GWAR to jump out of a television set. It’s weird, in the way that ’90s movies were allowed to be weird. It’s full of the kind of asinine, idiosyncratic behavior that a bunch of late teens and early twenty-somethings get up to when they’re still figuring out who they want to be, and while the cast of Hi-Fi Fight Club might eventually hit that point, right now they’re just a bunch of girls who work in a record store.
They’re not even well-defined, these girls, not yet. There’s the cute (blonde) one, the goth, the smart one, the boss, and then the main character. They have names like Dolores and Kennedy, because this book is set in 1998, and the creators know exactly what audience they’re looking for. This at least, is not a criticism; I’m an absolute mark for a book that captures the feel of the ’90s alternative scene, especially one that captures it just prior to its decline. I’ve written elsewhere that music is about keeping time; not just in the rhythmic thump of a beat but in the way that it encapsulates a feeling, a memory, and preserves that for the listener to revisit over and over. 1998 was, after all, the year in which the post-grunge era gave way to the burgeoning might of nu-metal; the year that bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn gained true mainstream recognition. It’s also the year that Britney Spears debuted, and these changes are something that are marked for me. When I hear music from that time, I remember where I was, what I was doing. I’m curious to see how Hi-Fi Fight Club will interact with this massive shift in the musical landscape.
Curiosity is basically all I have to go on; despite the reader being aware of a fight club as early as the title, it’s not something the main character finds out about until the final page. That stinger and the fact that a member of a visiting band going missing are both cliffhangers that are setup for later payoff; in the meantime, between the introduction of the cast and that final page, Chris, the main character, is literally sent home to keep her from finding out about the store’s secrets. Within the context of the store, I understand the decision; Chris is a new employee and they don’t trust her yet. As a reader though, I have to question it–what is the point of a viewpoint character if you’re going to waste time in your debut issue removing her from the story? Chris is told to leave on page eleven, then spends six pages at home. In a twenty-two page story about a record store with a fight club in it, the main character spends almost a third of the story–the middle third–away from the action. That’s frustrating.
The art is something I really enjoy–I’d not heard of Nina Vakueva prior to this book, but her style reminds me a lot of Karl Kerschl, in that it’s expressive and dynamic; she’s comfortable drawing bodies in motion as well as at rest, and she knows how to lean into the cartoony aspects of facial expressions to achieve a desired result. Paired with her on inks and colors are Irene Flores and Rebecca Nalty, and their work is stellar. Flores’ careful use of line weights gives the world of Vinyl Mayhem a lived-in feel; people read as more solid, heavier than, say, leaves in the background. Nalty’s colors are rich and show an eye for contrast; think Gotham Academy with a brighter, poppier palette.
Overall, Hi-Fi Fight Club is a book that I really, really want to like; it’s just that, like I said, it’s taught me something. One issue isn’t enough for me to really form a considered opinion. I’ll look forward to checking out the first collection to see how many of the impressions left on me here hold true. In the mean time, I’m going to go re-watch Empire Records.