by Nick Chidgey The second decade of the 21st century has proven to be the second age of creator-ownership in the comics world. And not just for that unknown indie artist wanting to break into the spotlight, or even just to get their name published. We're talking about well-known, highly-selling creators who, until recently, were known to be exclusive to the Big Two. One need only to look at the plethora of creator-owned works coming into the market, from the dependably high-selling The Walking Dead, from Robert Kirkman, to title after title coming from Mark Millar and whichever superstar artist he manages to steal away from Marvel or DC.
And then there's Brian K. Vaughan, who appears to be the king of the high concept, from his highly acclaimed series Y: The Last Man, to Ex Machina, and, more recently, the sold-out (and now Eisner nominated) science fantasy series, Saga. Now Vaughan has created another daring experiment, this time with artist Marcos Martin, who many may know from his stint as co-artist on Dan Slott's run of Amazing Spider-Man. The Private Eye's novelty is not so much in its brilliant premise, as Vaughan has a knack for creating, but in its unique delivery method. This will stand as either a shining example of things to come, or a dire warning of somewhere comics fear to tread.
Taking a cue from Radiohead's Internet album release In Rainbows, Vaughan and Martin present a web-only comic featuring a pay-what-you-want model, where readers do just that: pay whatever they want (including nothing at all), and they recieve a DRM-free digital comic, in either pdf, cbr, or cbz formats. Cutting out the distributor and retail middle-men, Vaughan and Martin bring their work directly to the reader, while also eschewing the traditional funding methods of most webcomics (advertising and merchandise sales), and instead offer readers a chance to show just how much they support their favorite creators. Some might say it's a risky move, but if fan-funded projects, such as those found on Kickstarter may prove, it is how creators find that appealing directly to their audience could be far more lucrative then relying on the old systems of distribution.
Moving on to the actual comic, The Private Eye is a sci-fi detective story, featuring a future free of the Internet, where privacy has become an absolute right and a most precious commodity; everyone has a secret identity. Enter our hero, an enigmatic, illegal, paparazzi in a mask, who discovers people's dirty secrets (i.e. their true identities) for a hefty sum. It's not the storyline which is the most exciting aspect of the book, a detective story is, in the end, just like any other detective story, but it's the chance to watch Vaughan create yet another rich, and diverse, new world for us to get lost in, while throwing in some poignant social commentary, since it serves as a satirical nightmare for our current Facebook generation.
However, Vaughan's contributions are only half the equation, as his ideas are taken to a whole new level under the guided pencil of Marcos Martin, who's animated style lends an energy and expressionism often lost in modern comic art. After all, if he's good enough for Spider-man, he's good enough for anything. While the book isn't a motion comic or digitally manipulated in anyway, the fluidity of his style seems to make the art flow across the page. It's highly recommended that you read this on a tablet, which frees Martin to turn each page into a double-page spread, allowing the eye to glide across the screen, in a four-colored flight of fancy.
Speaking of colors, it would be a great disservice not to mention colorist, Muntsa Vicente, and how his colors bring to life Martin's already exemplary linework. With every citizen garbed in some kind of mask or costume, we get to see a brightly colored world long lost in the muddy-hued depression that modern comics have, unfortunately, have become known for. Make no mistake, this is no candy-coated pop-fest, as the richer palette does not sacrifice the gloomy atmosphere of an at-heart noir tale.
TL;DR: Whether or not the unique pay-what-you-want DRM-free distribution model works out for Vaughn et al aside, The Private Eye is another richly built world from Vaughn with stunning art and colors. Definitely worth following.
The Private Eye is written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Marcos Martin and color by Muntsa Vicente. It is available at Panel Syndicate for digital download, featuring a pay-what-you-want system, including nothing, though the creators recommend that 99 cents is a good price point, as not enough paying readers could significantly diminish the chances of the series being finished. It has a planned run of 10 issues, and if proven a success, more original comic series could follow.
Nick Chidgey has been a regular contributor to Spandexless since the beginning but has yet to provide a more comprehensive bio. As such, he is a reviewer of mystery.