Story and Art: David Branstetter
AP Edition 2/10 2011 (1st Printing)
Review By: John M. Scrudder
It’s early in the year 2012 - but it’s very late for Independent Artists who are still publishing tangible, paper stock books. Such is the way for David Branstetter’s book “STRAWMAN”
Published under his own “Dim Light Graphics” production title, David introduces us to a world that bears a resemblance to his studio’s name. Dim Light is really all that Independent artists who are still choosing to publish today have to guide them by. It’s a narrow and desolate path. Nowadays an empty road occupied by few.
Online comics have been booming for years and continue to explode, and many of the traditional artists from the last 30 years are seeing an end to the once loved published comic book. 2012 may not be the last year of human existence, but it may be the death rattle for published books.
Strawman was first introduced in 2004. At the back of the issue it said that the plan was to release an issue every two months. At a minimum that should put us around Issue 43. I believe David is finishing up issue 12. This is not uncommon in the Independent world of Comics. Even well renowned Artists are late on issues (Hey Jeff Smith! Are we going to finish RASL this Decade!?), or don’t even finish the series (Hey Frank CHO!! It’s been 7 years!! Are we going to see another issue of Liberty Meadows or is your Zombie King Movie script just THAT GOOD?!) We have about 200 pages of published Strawman material. That means, if it was a matter of consistency, David is turning out 1 page about every fourteen days. Not exactly the twice a month release on the shelves of consistency we were initially looking forward to. Let’s get to the meat of the subject, shall we? The review…
STRAWMAN: POINT OF ORIGIN.
It’s hard to pin down where David Branstetter fit’s in as an artist. It’s definitely more appropriate to say he’s an author first and artist second. In this regard, his pacing is taught, his stories engaging and interesting, and he give’s you a sense of real empathy and connection with his characters. The fact that Strawman takes place in Dallas, Texas seems unusual at first, given the fact that there’s no real grounding for reality except for the everyday observations of the layman. We see glimpses of some type of police agency, though, without any real regard for how a police station would actually work in the real world. There are no rules and regulations or an actual structured rank system that gives any credence to how things SHOULD operate. The real world in this comic is a patchwork of observed scenes from television and film, which, in a way, is fitting since it is a work of fiction - Strawman (Aka John Smith) IS a detective in the Dallas Police Force and it is he who we are following - the city and the reality of the world is simply a backdrop to keep the story moving forward.
The difference between Strawman issue 1 and Strawman isse 1: Point of Origin, is of course, the origin story that was added in the Collected Trade Paper Back. With this, Branstetter gives us a clear picture as to who and how John Smith became Strawman, which is interesting in and of itself however, probably unnecessary, at least at this point in the time line since there have only been 9 published issues. I like the origin story and I would love to see it more developed over the next few issues just for continuity and to keep the pacing up. The other change in the TPB is a story about a case at a construction site - what was once a seemingly innocuous run in with some petty criminals turns into a story arc introducing us to a seedy underworld where Dirty Frank is introduced as a main villain. There is a mysterious woman introduced from Strawman’s past as well, but beyond not being able to remember her smile, nothing else has been expanded upon about it.
The first four issues of the series is where the storytelling is the strongest. We go on psychological carousel through strawman’s world - he’s a frustrated man who seems impatient with what the world considers a hero and what he knows to be a hero. Branstetter is smart to be completely objective on this issue and leave it up to the reader to decide whether or not John Smith is or is not crazy.
One of the more interesting characters of the series is introduced in this storyline as well - Gameraaz - is it pronounced Gamma Rays? Or is it a homage to Gamera? I don’t know, but it’s definitely the once character I’d love to see more of.
There’s a really interesting arc that involves a psychological dissection of John Smith by his friends to try to “Help” him. Once again Branstetter plays this one well. Leaving it up to us to decide whether or not John Smith actually has a problem.
Issues 5-7 Was a bit of a lull for me. I think Branstetter was taking a stab at telling a self contained story here - though I think it missed the point in the overall storyline - Strawman’s character is essentially cast to the side so we can focus on a religious trilogy about a father and son battling over a religious object. It’s not a bad story - it just isn’t very interesting. If the series had continued like this I may have lost interest.
Luckily, issue 8 and 9 were huge turnarounds for the series! Issue 8 showcases Branstetter’s strength as a writer while using the same images again and again, ala Dave Sim style. And issue 9 shows, in what I believe, to be David Branstetter breaking down a wall in his artistic ability. I didn’t mention much of the art style before because, in my opinion, there wasn’t much to mention. Like I said before, it’s hard to pin down where he fits as an artist, but in issue 9 you can see a real effort for continuity in the characters basic anatomy and better angles and panel layouts - this, for me, is when Strawman started to feel like it could be real contender amongst other comics on the shelves in the store. And this isn’t a hit against David Branstetter’s art style as a whole. I just found it to be somewhat untenable in the first 7 issues. A lot of the scenes led to confusion for me, not just because of how they played out in the panels, but because I couldn’t always tell who the same character was within a given page of art.
Overall - Strawman is a comic worth watching grow. But this, ultimately is not where David Branstetter shines the most.
To see his best work I would recommend reading his two short stories - one in the back of one of the issues of Strawman about his Grandfather having Cancer - and a one shot called The Winter of ‘89. Both of these stories are completely fantastic and showcases Branstetters full potential.
The Winter of ‘89 and the short Cancer story are nothing short of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, albeit a little more heart. THIS is what I want to see more of, read more, and talk about more!
Strawman is David’s passion, however, and I can’t wait to see the new Volume 2 TBP!
Need your STRAWMAN fix? Check out the OFFICIAL SITE HERE!