by Abigail Ortlieb Gray Matter is the first published anthology of short graphic stories by Moxie Comics. The proceeds go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. It's a nice charity project showcasing the talents of several creators, but as an experimental piece showcasing comics in all different stages of readiness, it suffers from a feeling that it went to press without some of the stories actually ready for reading outside the workshop. However, the incomprehensible stories are the minority; overall the book is different tales for many different tastes.
If you take a look at the anthology as a whole, not at the stories themselves, you get a lot of bang for your buck with six different and unrelated stories. The larger idea of the project (beyond it's charitable goals), to give so many writers and artists a run at publishing is really bold and inspiring; it gives the artists the chance to get feedback from a larger audience without having to wait until it the works are fully refined. If you want a chance to give the group of creators (and friends) who worked on Grey Matter feedback and support, I highly recommend that you buy the anthology and leave comments on their Facebook page. But despite Moxie Comics' noble goals and surely meaning well, the choice to print comics that are essentially still in the workshopping stage does make some of them a bit painful to read. Not all of them seem ready for the public, but on the other hand, some are absolutely fascinating.
First, let's talk about the ones that left me cringing, if only because I would like to see both these projects get cleaned up and republished somewhere with a bit more finesse.
"The Exile" is left in a very rough sketch form, which I actually found interesting because instead of having precise details, the multiple lines give the appearance of movement and let you see how the artist started each panel and how it evolved. Unfortunately, that was the only thing I liked. There are talking space animals and a bipolar robot, and really that's all I could glean of the story. There are puzzles that are somehow meant to enhance the story, but the instructions are so vague that I didn't even know where to begin. So while aesthetically interesting, it lacked an understandable plot.
"The Harrowing" hasn't been drawn yet at all. Okay, that's not entirely true. There are a few character sketches, and the final page has the beginnings of what the first set of panels would look like. The rest is script and description. Normally this would not be a deal breaker in an anthology of experimental comics, but as with "The Exile," it lacked real understandable substance for me. The concept of a cop seeking a witch's help is not bad, but the characters haven't been fleshed out yet. Maybe their personalities and stories will come through more once illustrated, but as a base, the script didn't give me any real compelling reason to care about the protagonists. It's hard to have a comic focused solely on two characters when neither of them has any background.
But of the six stories, those were the only two that I truly could have done without. One step up from those is "The Last Hit" and "The Privateer." Both are decent reads, with fully realized graphics and a clear story. "The Last Hit" brings friendly mobsters together with a pregnant woman whose husband ran out on her when he owed money to another gang. It's got lots of guns, lots of playful banter and overall it's a pretty fun read. It has fairly simple but effective art with the majority of the focus being on the writing and the characters. "The Privateer" is the story of a crew of space pirates that is framed for a crime they didn't commit. The dialogue gives plenty of backstory to help ease you into the world despite the short format, but the real star of the story is the incredibly detailed art with sweeping environment scenes.
But as I said, those are the middling comics. And while they were both certainly good reads, I put them in the second tier because the final two stories, "The Package" and "Marlene," really pull out all the stops.
"The Package," though a little hard to follow at first, becomes more and more tantalizing as an old Western coach travels to a small town to deliver a package. The woman tasked with this delivery doesn't realize that she is about to be handed something even more valuable than what is in the box. The art is very dark and shadowy, leaning towards realism. For a work in progress, it seems nearly complete and ready for its next installment.
"Marlene" is the oddest, most disturbing, and certainly most unique story in the book. It is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach and definitely rated R. The graphics leave a little to be desired, particularly in the facial expression department, but with such compelling and repulsive dialogue, the characters have an eerie aura to them. It is a horror story that Poe would pale to read. The two main characters have an odd relationship that orbits around Marlene's mother. The male character has an unusual fetish that Marlene helps satisfy. When Marlene suffers a great trauma, she becomes mentally broken and does things that even the most avid horror fans will find sickening and strange.
While the two incomplete stories soured the reading experience for me initially, there is enough strength in the other stories that the anthology was a worthwhile read. Overall, Gray Matter was interesting and offered a wide variety of content. As an experimental publication, I do hope that Moxie Comics will continue to print more first draft stories in the future.
TL;DR: Gray Matter is a collection of concept works in their roughest forms. Though some stories are lacking, it is an interesting read and a unique publishing experiment that yields some rather out-of-the-ordinary plots.
Gray Matter was written and illustrated by the seven creators at Moxie Comics: Kevin Fong, Linda Maglionico, Mariel Miranda, John Payne, Dan Perico, Monika Smyczek, Ed Watson, and Fred Yee. The published anthology is only available for purchase online and at conventions. All proceeds benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
A review copy of Grey Matters was graciously provided to Spandexless by Moxie Comics.
Abigail currently writes freelance reviews for Spandexless and RTBookreviews.com, among others, and owns her own company, The Eccentric Perspective, creating wearable artwork. She has her B.A. in English and plans on graduate school, but refuses to ever drop the title, “Jack of All Trades.” You can find her online through her website or on Facebook.