Playthings (#1 – 5) – Jon Clark

1 out of 5

Comic books, traditionally, are a communication between story and art and the reader. Traditions are also meant to be broken. Certainly, the years and relatively easier access to publishing (whether digital or print) have allowed for more and more rule-breakers to show off their stuff in the medium, and that’s surely a good thing. Whether or not we like this stuff, well, tastes are relative. Reviews of Playthings – and just anecdotally, at the comic shop, when the salesperson told me they were digging the book – have a lot to say about the look of it being appealing, but the visuals for me really severed the communication chain. And with that, the story Jon Clark may have been trying to tell – of a kidnapped girl, and the mother who has to fight the disbelief of others (and not to mention the crazed kidnapper(s) to rescue her – got lost, making me rely on dialogue and scene setups that, I’d say, were lacking.

Horror movies – which I think we can equate this book to – sometimes live or die based on their look and performances. “Plot” can be less important if you’ve got flashy gore effects, and actors who bring a certain something to the role. Acting in comics is based on the art; Travis Williamson’s very stylized look – Ashley Wood / Bill Sinkevich surrealist sketchiness taken to the extreme, plus Sam Keith stretch and squish figure work, but without (by my opinion) the anatomical understandings of the former two, or the storytelling chops of Keith – sets up zero visual consistency for his characters, and messes with them to such extremes that I can’t even say they look like people at various, and scenes have no geometry or any real sense of “place” – this look provides no acting for the script, and the script is, firstly, cookie-cutter dialogue, and, secondly, when it comes to procedural elements of cops investigating the missing girl, bereft of the slightest sense of research into how this stuff goes – like, even watching some Law & Orders or something to get the patter. It’s not there.

Clark also handles the colors, which are an appealingly (for the tone) nightmarish water color wash, but this doesn’t add any definition to the look, it’s just playing in to Williamson’s style. I think this makes for some potentially good pinups; the covers are good, for example. …Which suggests this could’ve definitely worked as a storybook, with pages and text, but not a comic.

That’s further supported by April Brown’s lettering. Working lettering into untraditional comic stuff is tough. When the art is overly digital, for example, it rarely layers well with lettering, and here, while I think the straight up bubbles are spaced and placed mostly well, there was some work done to give the baddie a unique “voice” via lettering straight on the page, and not only does this fuss with reading order frequently, it sits way too far “on top” of the art, along with the sound effects, pulling us out of the scene and not syncing with the bubbled dialogue.

Given this severing of communication, I can’t even say I understood what Clark was going for here. The kidnapper(s) have a circus shtick, and there’s definitely an interesting wrinkle to the lead’s associates, but how it’s worked into the story doesn’t properly act as a Gotcha moment, or even add anything, really. It’s just, like, okay, that’s weird. The same is true for the main character’s relationship with her daughter, and her ex – these are one-line character descriptions that carry no depth on the page, and aren’t required for the story to work.

But: I think this is the kind of series you’ll take one look at, and determine if it’s “for you” or not. I’ve been buying up Black Caravan stuff, so that’s how it ended up in my collection; otherwise, I probably would’ve passed after a browse, and I wouldn’t be here ragging on it unnecessarily. Based on the other reviews (and that comic shop interaction), if it is for you, it becomes much easier to overlook the narrative blips, and just vibe on the feeling of the series.