The world we live in now affords us many luxuries and austerities. When you talk about luxuries, you might think about the fact that we carry mini-computers in our pockets, and that we’re the last generation who will ever be lost; you might think about how we can access entire universes of information. When you think about austerities, you might think of the prohibitive cost of education and the questionable authority of the people teaching; you might think of recent police crises. Ales Kot thinks about these things a lot. Sometimes he writes comics about them. Often, they’re not very good.
Material #1 fancies itself as a white-hot bleeding-edge take on the world we live in now. Ales Kot’s books fancy themselves in that category quite frequently. They’re starting to feature similar tics: brainless educators and the students that run circles around them; those affected by warfare, urban or otherwise; disaffected or drugged-out actors and actresses; mystery people in high places, playing everybody for fools. It would be interesting if it weren’t trying so hard.
Take the solicitation text for Material: “A man comes home from Guantanamo Bay, irrevocably changed. An actress receives an offer that can revive her career. A boy survives a riot and becomes embedded within a revolutionary movement. A philosopher is contacted by a being that dismantles his beliefs. Look around you. Everything is material.” These are all interesting points, but they never make one discernible whole, and furthermore, don’t give you enough to go on. Kot seems to forget that we’re waiting on the next issue and some motivation is required.
Material becomes a parody of itself. It features footnotes that border on the insulting; in a society where, as Kot knows, we carry miniature universes of information in our pockets, there is no need for these footnotes. It is an excuse for Kot to show off how much he knows, and on that level, it is successful. To the readers that are in his target audience, it is going to be off-putting and damaging to the quality and credit of the book. The writer George Saunders once advised that you ‘treat the reader like a friend’; Kot treats the reader like an idiot.
The art is, bluntly, not good. Kot has been very lucky in the past, that his books have been worth looking at on the merit of the artists (Morgan Jeske’s turn on Kot’s book Change was nothing short of incredible, and the book eventually congealed into something worth reading), but his luck has run out. There’s no one to compare Will Tempest to because no one’s doing work this sub-par at Image or anywhere else. The figures are half-sketched, the backgrounds barely exist, and there’s not a shred of personality to be found in a book that Kot tries, desperately, to inject with personality. There’s a lot of trying and no success. There’s nothing, pardon the pun, material.
To give some benefit of the doubt: first issues are hard, and Ales Kot’s a talented writer. His pretension tends to jump in front of him. He has strong opinions about social issues, and he’s into weird sex, and he’s into Hollywood, and he’s into war, so those trickle their way into his work. Unfortunately, here in Material #1, they add up to absolutely nothing. Perhaps once the trade hits, this will be worth something; on its own, it is a top-to-bottom failure.