Grey is the newest “live-action” comic from the creators of Brielle and the Horror, Loaded Barrel Studios. It’s this concept of live-action that I actually want to address first. I know we usually talk about the story first and then the art, but I just can’t wait.
See, this is what I got the most hung up on reading this book. I guess it is partially my fault because I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started reading. I was expecting traditional art and then got… something else. The art is done in a series of actual photographs that digital artist Jared Barel then takes and works some Photoshop magic on to make it look more like a storyboarded cross between A Scanner Darkly and Robert Zemeckis’ wet dream than traditional comic book art.
Now before you jump down my throat, Internet. I know that not all comics are going to have “traditional” comic book art. I get that and I’m okay with it in a larger sense. But while reading this it just really bugged me and made it kind of hard for me to get into the story and I couldn’t figure out why. I eventually put my finger on it though. When comic art is drawn, it is fluid and can be adjusted for word balloons and dialogue. Here, that is not the case. The dialogue is put in around the existing photos in what is sometimes a really awkward way, especially during long conversations. The actor wasn’t actually saying the dialogue while being shot. So a lot of times, people are saying large amounts of text or even having entire conversations and the character in the panel doesn’t even have his mouth open.
Maybe this bugs only me? But it ended up feeling like reading an episode of Tom Goes to the Mayor which I feel like would probably just drive a person mad. Eventually once I came to accept that this was the art style of the book, I got past it and was able to get into the story (Though I never got past that no one changes clothes over several days. If you have real people, would it be so hard to have them change their shirts?).
And once I got into said story, it was actually pretty decent. The story is of a New York cop, John Mack, who moves to Middle of Nowhere, Who Knows, USA (they give the town a name, but it’s not really that important) with his family for some peace and quiet. We also find out pretty early on that one of his reasons for moving is that he has some kind of lung disease (it’s never really explicitly stated if it’s cancer or something else) and is going for some last-ditch effort treatments, but this personal note kind of takes a backseat to the larger alien story.
My main concern with the writing was that it used a LOT of tropes to tell the tale. Example: he’s the new sheriff in the very stereotypical, small-town mentality, Middle America town, so of course he butts heads with the mayor who wants to preserve traditions and talks about how the town is very set in it’s ways. It’s a story that’s been told a million times. Even the details within the larger alien story are somewhat played out. There’s probes, crop circles, cow abductions, probing… basically anything you can think of when you think of the standard alien abduction stories. They didn’t do much work to try and make this story unique or surprising as far as an alien tale goes. There are a few moments where it seems like they are about to go in a cool new direction (like when Mack’s son claims to have spoken with the alien) but then they just let it kind of fall off.
Ultimately, the final twist is really interesting and not what I was expecting, but it only comes together in the last couple pages of a 100+ page book. Before that I was just following along with the expected, waiting for someone else to die or get abducted or for me to be surprised. I got plenty of the first two and not much of the last. but oh man… the ending! If the rest of the book could build up the kind of tension and surprise of the last few pages, I would have been much more intrigued. As it was, Grey was an enjoyable read, but isn’t going on any of my top ten lists.
TL;DR Grey has unique “live-action” art that can sometimes be distracting, but overall is a new format I would be interested in seeing more of. The story is enjoyable if predictable and will be a big hit with anyone who is a fan of UFO fiction.
Grey is written by Jared and Jordan Barel with art by Jordan Barel from photos by Jordan Barel and Alex Goz. It is printed by their own company, Loaded Barrel Studios. It was recently picked up for distribution through Diamond. You can order on the Loaded Barrel Studios website or ask your local comic book shop to order a copy for you.
A review copy of Grey was graciously provided to Spandexless by Loaded Barrel Studios.