Robot Shorts: New From Urban Outfitters / by David Anderson


I didn't really watch the Olympics. The last time I tried, Russia went and invaded Georgia and that just blew my whole week as I scoured the net for information on that kerfuffle. This time I kind of watched a little bit of the opening ceremonies. There was like, a tree, and people were clapping around it, and Kenneth Branagh is saying something about wolves I think, then the queen falls out of a helicopter? Or something? Maybe she was hospitalized by the dancing nurses? I don't know, I had hay fever at the time, so in spite of the impressive visuals I was busy fighting hallucinations. Well, I had all those books from MoCCA to keep me company while I watched the UK collapse under the weight of its own ironic humor on global TV, so there was that. I'm sure I'd have been cured instantly if Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry showed up to fight the athletes. This is actually going to be a short review of Robot Shorts by Dave West and Steve Holder, because I got a stain on the book early on and tried to clean it with the dishwasher. Turns out books are allergic to water. Who knew?

Kidding! It's a fascinating, creative and intelligent addition to the sci-fi scene, and it comes from Accent UK, so I know there's at least a few people left over from the Olympocalypse.

In the same vein as 24/7, a title I reviewed last year after NYCC, Robot Shorts is a collection of short stories about robots and the wild and crazy things they do, mostly centered around obeying masters, disobeying masters and coming to the right conclusions with the wrong methods. Blowing up mankind to save the trees, making people uncomfortable, giving us nerds a website, the usual sorts of stuff. These stories, though, are rather interesting, and some of them do very clever things with their premises.

The difference between 24/7 and Robot Shorts, I think, is that 24/7 had a more urban, kinetic flavor to its style, while Robot Shorts goes the sophisticated route and uses a more iconic style to complement a more static, introspective theme. 24/7 had gunfights, kung fu, bank robberies. RS has conversations, expeditions, plot twists. In a way it stands as a parallel to the entertainment industries of the US and UK, and how different they are in terms of style and substance- the Brits like their high-brow stories, the 'Mericans like their action.

I found each story to be interesting in its own right, even when it tread well-worn ground. Where some stories may lack an original premise, they make up for it in atmosphere and presentation. Typically that atmosphere is of an inquisitive or expository nature, using its characters to explore the nature of existence, the advantages of metal superheroes over fleshy ones, or the habits of robotic space explorers. There are a couple of story threads that repeat like episodes, strewn throughout the book periodically and giving it a sense of continuity. There are also some single-page works, like "A Year in the Life of" or "42 Words," which are nice interludes to larger stories. There are even a couple of stories designed as nursery rhymes, and those are a great pleasure to read.

Most of these stories are heavy on the narration, using text boxes instead of dialogue for their stories. I think my favorite three stories are the intriguing "Becoming Aware," the action packed "Book," and the ongoing saga of Mite-E, the robotic superhero that everyone finds somewhat unsettling due to his purely logical thought patterns. To be honest, though, it feels like trying to pick a favorite Skittle. I mean yeah, red is probably the nicest color, but they all taste great in my mouth.

The art style's monochromatic flavor is boosted by alternating between two different art styles. Many of the stories are highly iconic, cartoony and simple, like what you might see in an elementary school book, but many more rely on a detailed dramatic style too. "Book" especially, relies on the kind of gritty, kinetic urban style. The last section of the book contains a small gallery of robot themed pictures by various other contributors. Suffice to say, every piece of art in this book is amazing. Holder has fantastic skill for detail and shadow, while West's cartoon style is fun to look at and complements the narrative style in his pieces very well. Holder's robots are unique and interesting in design, while West goes for more traditional, simple and slightly goofy designs to make his robots more expressive through their form.

You know, I like this style of short story compendium. A couple of artists churning out a group of closely related stories, an art gallery, and an emphasis on story over action. It's the peanut butter to 24/7's chocolate. God, I feel like a 40 year old woman writing for Reader's Digest just saying that, but then apt metaphors don't care one way or another. This is, in my mind, a quality title that I think you should buy if you're into robots and short stories. If you were lured into this review by the promise actual mechanical pants at UO though, I cannot help you.

TL;DR: Robot Shorts isn't the first existentialist piece to use robots, but it does so with a different flavor that feels unique to UK entertainment, and it makes for a great read.

Robot Shorts is written and illustrated by Steve Holder and Dave West and published by Accent UK. You can buy a copy here

A review copy of this graphic novel was provided to us by the publisher. Thanks guys, you're awesome.