Plastic Farm likes to meander. From issue to issue the focus shifts from chronologically disjointed flashbacks to subtly related side stories, and I couldn’t help but feel a little motion sick trying to keep up. Art that evokes burnt out drug imagery and doodles sketched in the borders of textbooks, and mutating panel work promises that these vague characters with vague motivations will deliver compellingly weird diversions, but unfortunately the main thrust of the plot itself stays out of focus for almost fifty pages. Sprawling narrative, disjointed storytelling, and a lack of concern for the reader’s attention span leaves an impression that there could have been some judicious editing. The book is a sprawling narrative masterminded by Rafer Roberts, who handles the majority of art and writing duties throughout, though plenty of guest and featured artists contribute. The series ostensibly follows Chester, a man who has lived an insane life, telling equally insane stories, and has all the time needed to tell them at an airport bar full of snowed-in travelers.There’s gory violence, abundant drugs, mind-tripping visions, and an insanely disparate cast of character with their own weird tales. It’s a bit like The Canterbury Tales for crazy people. It’s a lot to take in, and unfortunately I often felt lost and left behind, while the story barreled ahead.
I feel it’s only fair to point out that I read the four volumes of Platic Farm in one, fairly large reading. This accumulation of 600-odd pages of story left me a bit exhausted and overwhelmed, although I found I was left with vague hints of fascinating notions and an idea that there’s something interesting at the heart of the story if only I could figure it out.
There are a good variety of stories here, and there’s no doubt that the scope of this project is impressive. The first 12 issues feel only loosely associated. In fact, I felt more at ease with the timeline presented at the end of the book than I did trying to unite the themes of that same chapter while reading it.
I find myself dwelling on the thought that Roberts produces interesting ideas, though he seems more concerned with simply serving us those ideas and telling us that they’re strange or weird or otherworldly, without imbuing them with the level of complexity necessary to leave the reader entranced, enchanted, and mindful of his themes. Aspects of his characters seem superficially fascinating, but more often than not their weirdness seems to act as some sort of replacement for character development.
In some ways it’s easy to see how this story grew and got away from its author. He notes that originally the story “might end up being a 6 issue story about a sad young man struggling with a drinking problem, an imaginary cowboy, and the girl of his dreams”. Although there is an imaginary cowboy, it’s hard to see how this book became so sprawling. I found that the second volume was much more enjoyable than the rest of the book, and I’m certain that has to do with how tightly constructed it is, compared to the rest of the series. Often I’d find myself grasping for a note or reference to figure out what was going on at any given moment, but the second volume found the right balance between weirdly sprawling and compelling narrative that I found enjoyable and thought provoking.
Don’t misunderstand me; I do believe Plastic Farm is, in some respects, impressive. This is a story of intimidating scope, including a massive cast of characters. Though it’s certainly a disjointed affair, it’s impressive that one artist dedicated so much time and effort to the work. You definitely see him take bold choices in panel layout and art design, and you can also observe a steady hand taking hold as he refines his art. There are plenty of enjoyable scenes and memorable moments, it’s just that the work, taken as a whole, feels bloated. There are times when you feel like the art or writing lacks while the other gathers the majority of the author’s focus, creating large wordy sequences with few bold images, or digressive panel work that accompanies poorly directed narrating, there’s a strength in these scenes, but they lack a balance.
I got over 600 pages in and found myself wanting. There’s potential for interesting fare here, and the talent to extract a strong narrative, but as of right now the book seems desperately in need of fine tuning.
TL;DR: A sprawling and often disjointed narrative accompanies some impressive art, but never in quite the right balance. An interesting read that could use some fine tuning.
Plastic Farm is created, written and mostly-drawn by Rafer Roberts. You can find out more about Roberts and the series on his website, where you can also purchase the books. Or, support Spandexless by purchasing through our Amazon webstore.
Review copies of Plastic Farm were graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator.