Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Flight: Volume Two--Filtered Through the Jerkometer!

The comicblogosphere decorated the 2005 anthology volume Flight: Volume Two with strong reviews. Publishers’ Weekly summed it up thusly:

Flight: Volume Two
Edited by Kazu Kibuishi et al. Image Comics, $24.95 paper (432p) ISBN 1-58240-477-1

Last year, the first volume of Flight introduced a squadron of talented young cartoonists whose anime/animation influence struck a fresh note among jaded comics readers....The general theme is flight, but many of the contributors use that as a springboard to examine symbolic journeys into adulthood or love. This thick volume is almost an embarrassment of riches, with exquisite art and coloring throughout....This collection strikes a few callow or self-indulgent notes, but the sheer force of creative energy on display is impressive, and young readers should find much to spark their own imaginations. (Apr.)

Seeking to broaden my horizons and support what sounded like a worthwhile endeavor, I took a shot on the book, brought it home, and read it.

As I read it, an idea for a review came into my fevered, villainous mind. A perfectly grinchy idea.

An idea that, okay, took me a couple of months to get around to doing.

Number crunching!

The Harvey Jerkwater Careful Analysis and Comic Dissection Engine Version 3.4.1 (“Jerkometer”) Analysis Results


Title: Flight: Volume Two

Publisher: Image Comics

Type: Anthology, general

Mood: Arty-farty, self-consciously juvenile.


Number of stories in anthology: 33

Percent of stories that are silent or nearly silent: 24.2% (eight stories)

Percent of stories with either child or animal protagonists: 57.6% (nineteen stories)

Percent of stories about growing up: 30.3% (ten stories)

Percent of stories about regret and/or heartbreak: 27.3% (nine stories)

Percent of stories lacking a plot: 21.2% (seven stories)

Percent of stories that include cutesy animals: 48.5% (sixteen stories)

Percent of stories that are full stories, with beginnings, middles, ends, conflicts of some variety: 45.5% (fifteen stories)

Percent of stories that I enjoyed: 18.2% (six stories)

Percent of stories that inspire the question “WTF?”: 18.2% (six stories)

Percent of stories that felt smug, obnoxiously cutesy, or in other ways made me wish to smack the artist in the back of the head while yelling “try again”: 39.4% (thirteen stories)


The volume is, despite claims to variety, surprisingly repetitive in content. Then again, that's missing the point, as the essence of the book is the art, not writing. It's a book centered on its artist. Of the thirty-three stories, all were written by their artists. One or two had “dialogue by” someone else, but that’s it.

The art in the stories varied widely, ranging from stick figures to thin-lined realism to cartoony to fantastical and all sorts of styles in between. Some of it was indeed brilliant. What stood out as an exceptional strength of the volume was the matching of art style to story. In every case, they harmonized well. Granted, when artists write their own stories, this is not altogether surprising. As a fan of mainstream comics, where the labors are divided, I found the match between art and story in Flight to be a welcome thing.

Nearly all of the stories fell under one of three themes: Growing Up, Heartbreak/Regret, or Wonder/Spectacle. Similarity of theme wasn’t necessarily a problem by itself (Despite the percentages I put above--that’s just me being a jerkass).

What gnawed at me was the lack of sophistication in the stories. While the art ranged from okay to damned impressive, the stories themselves hovered around the level of the college literary magazine, with some dipping lower. Despite many efforts at profundity, none managed an insight greater than a basic cliché or two, and only a few were honestly entertaining.

The generous part of me wishes to note that the art is rich, varied, and interesting, and that $25 for thirty-three stories is not bad at all. Pretty pictures by the bucketful!

The surly part of me retorts that I only liked six of the thirty-three stories and found thirteen of them “smack-the-artist-in-the-back-of-the-head” worthy, and that $25 for six short stories and a lot of dead weight isn’t a bargain at all. Of those six I enjoyed, not one of the stories struck me as great.

In short: Flight: Volume Two is great if you’re into comics for the visuals and sense of wonder. It’s worth skipping if you like complex stories or have an allergy to twee. I dig cool art, but if the story the pictures tell isn't much, I won't care.

To use an internet cliche, your mileage may vary.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

That sums up the way I felt about the first Flight volume... now I'm certain I'll avoid the 2nd. The aggrandizing McCloud introduction to volume 1 made the fact that the stories almost all fell short so much more painful.

1/17/2006 05:13:00 PM  
Blogger markus said...

All true, if anything type of story is the draw here. And it might be a bargain at that, if one's preferences are such that one is more likely to enjoy a story about the themes mentioned than a sci-fi story (to avoid the obvious superhero bogeyman).

But then, aren't anthologies all about finding which authors out of a particular field are interesting to you?

1/17/2006 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

That's definitely part of anthologies, markus. But another part is the idea of crafting a piece fo art by a team of people and creating something to represent the union of artists.

1/17/2006 11:11:00 PM  

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