by Brandon Beck
As someone who worked in a movie theatre in high school, Gordon McAlpin’s Multiplex resonates with me on a deep level. Granted, I worked in a two screen art-house as opposed to a megaplex, but I worked there the summer that Napoleon Dynamite opened (“hellish nightmare” sums it up quite nicely) so I feel the pain his characters feel. Multiplex chronicles the day-to-day adventures of the staff of a movie theatre near Chicago, combining the deadpan wit of early Kevin Smith films with the love/hate relationship to its subject of Penny Arcade. Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show is warm and inviting but also deeply cutting when it wants to be.
Enjoy Your Show (aka this volume of the larger comic) suffers the same way many first volumes of long running comics suffer: It’s the first volume. The early strips, while charming, show a clearly talented writer still trying to find his footing. He has since annotated most of the volume and you get the sense that he’s aware of this fact, as most of his comments fall along the lines of “I should have done this” or “What I was getting at was…” The characters are fun and well defined, and the jokes land pretty consistently, but the comic was clearly still in the early, experimental days. The strip hadn't fully found its voice yet, but by the time you reach the end it comes very, very close. McAlpin flirts with continuity and longer story-arcs, but by the time you start to feel some steam building the volume is over. The book’s prologue is a new, 12 page story about Revenge of the Sith that shows a much more confident and clever storyteller at work, and the transition from new to old is somewhat jarring, but the charm of the characters and humor makes it easy to look past.
That being said: When Multiplex is funny it’s really really funny. As a dyed-in-the-wool film nerd I can totally get behind comics about the film Brazil or the correct pronunciation of a Charlie Kaufman movie. McAlpin’s love of film comes through bright as day without feeling exclusionary. Casual moviegoers might not get every reference he makes, but there’s always a solid, universal joke underneath so it never feels hollow. The characters all have very specific points of view on movies, be it a love for the low-brow or an intense devotion to arty pretentious nonsense, so the strip never winds up feeling like McAlpin’s personal movie soapbox. After reading this volume, I couldn’t really tell what his personal tastes are, which in a comic like this is incredibly refreshing.
The artwork is simple yet effective. McAlpin’s ambitions are sometimes limited by his style, but that most likely has to do with the fact that it’s still the early days of the strip. The prologue, while not being much more technically advanced than the rest of the strips, shows the skilled visual storyteller that McAlpin will eventually become, so it makes the rest of the book feels like watching the artist play catch-up with himself. To his credit, he closes the gap fast. The first strips are somewhat primitive but he finds his footing relatively quickly, and his visual experimentation, while not always successful, is interesting to watch. In a few cases, he has even gone back and “corrected” (Ironic given some of the Lucas-bashing in the book.) a few bits here and there, but always in an attempt to make things more clear and effective. It eventually becomes difficult to tell what’s old and what’s “new.” Seasoned readers may have a better idea than I do, but as a newbie the seams don’t show to me at all.
TL;DR Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show is an interesting look into the early days of a long running webcomic. Its somewhat awkward early days quickly give way to something warm, funny and unique.
Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show is the first printed volume of the webcomic Multiplex, written and drawn by Gordon McAlpin. Unlike many webcomics out there, you can find Multiplex in a variety of places: you can read the comic from the beginning online or on the free Multiplex iPhone app, you can buy it on the Multiplex website or on Amazon, or, as always, you can ask for it at your local comic book shop.
A review copy of Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show was graciously provided to Spandexless by the author, Gordon McAlpin.
Brandon Beck is a writer/director/improviser living in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently working towards an MFA in TV Writing/Producing at the TV Writer’s Studio at Long Island University with the hopes of one day bending the entertainment industry to his nefarious will. He is more than happy to talk to you about Phish. You can see inside his mind by finding him on Tumblr or following him at @hellyesbrandon.