Daniel Elkin: I am in awe of people expressing their unfettered creative vision. Putting yourself out there in such a naked manner shows a level of self-confidence and intestinal fortitude that I, to my shame, really don’t possess. Even when an artist stumbles in the realization of his or her art, my respect for them personally doesn’t diminish. If anything, in a way, it grows.
I just want to put that out there before we jump into this review of Intro to Alien Invasion by Owen King, Mark Jude Poirier, and Nancy Ahn. I take no joy in saying negative things about someone’s creative act. Please realize that I honor and respect the fact that these people have even attempted something so personal and revealing, something I am too afraid to try.
That being said, the new OGN Intro to Alien Invasion fails on many levels. It is a fractured read and a disappointing experience. To be honest, I’m more impressed with the creativity used in the press release than I was with this book.
Intro to Alien Invasion is the first graphic novel to be put out by publishing powerhouse Scribner (A CBS Company and imprint of Simon & Schuster). It is written by novelist Owen King (Double Feature) and screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier (Smart People), and it is illustrated by Nancy Ahn.
The press release that Scribner put out with this book says that it “stars Stacey, a brilliant, but socially marginalized student at Fenton College, a liberal arts school nestled in the hills of Vermont. Even her few friends find her relationship with Professor Evans, the highly eccentric astrobiology instructor, strange, and they’re skeptical of his theories about alien species. But, when an enormous hurricane strands the student on campus, Professor Evans’s theories prove to be correct: an alien invasion suddenly hit the college, leaving Stacey as the student most capable of taking down the infestation that threatens to wipe out the entire Fenton College population.”
Whew… that sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Except that’s not really what happens in this book. What happens in Intro to Alien Invasion is jumbled mess of hamfisted intentions gone awry in the clumsy hands of people who were looking at the product and the process.
Here, in this book, the characters and the setting and the narrative and the drama all bottom feed on the worst aspects of each trope it gels its hair with. Everything is piled on in such a manner that none of it rings true, as if King and Poirier were writing what they overheard instead of writing what they know. There is such an absence of connection points in Intro to Alien Invasion, everything seems covered in plastic, like my grandmother’s furniture, or behind glass, like an octopus at the aquarium. There is no direct experience.
Intro to Alien Invasion is ersatz comicing in so many ways.
My teenage son introduced me to the term “try hard” not all that long ago. From what I could discern through his guttural mutterings, “try hard” is when someone wants to be either socially relevant or controversial or outlandish or “deep” so badly that the intent overshadows the final product. Whatever they create rings false because it is not a true creative vision, rather it’s the approximation of the vision of others — like really bad performance art or post-ironic comedy or indie films that just reek of desperation instead of imagination. The fakeness of “try hard” comes from a level of pathos, I think, as if the need for validation of being part of a group is more important than validation for being yourself. It lacks any sort of authenticity.
Intro to Alien Invasion has “try hard” stink wafting off of nearly every page. King and Poirier have taken on too much in order to swim in a lake they have no business wading into because they never learned to doggie paddle. I felt a little sorry for Nancy Ahn, as her art struggled to keep up with the increasing ridiculous missteps of the narrative.
But bless them all for trying, even if it is “try hard”.
Unless this is just a blatant, soulless cash grab trying to capitalize on the new hotness that is issues of diversity in the the comics market. If so, then fuck these guys. They are gross.
Michael Bettendorf: Ya know, I appreciate your introduction, Elkin. I do not enjoy writing negative reviews because I always try to give creators the benefit of the doubt and respect for the very sake of just being a creator. Like you said, it takes a lot to put your vision out into the world, naked and alone, vulnerable to all end. And sure, I’m sure a lot of people look at us critics or reviewers or whatever name you want to call us and think, “well, everyone has their opinion” or simply “you don’t matter.”
This is a half-truth. It’s half-true because we represent the audience. I’m not published. I want to be, but I’m not. This book is for me to read and consume and have opinions on. Tell my friends if I liked it or not, etc. Well, unfortunately Intro To Alien Invasion did not do it for me.
I read the press release and instantly thought, “Yes. This is my type of story.” I enjoy quirky, B-rated films and comics. I appreciate them for what they are, what purpose they have in our society and in our popular culture, but I don’t think Intro To Alien Invasion hit the mark.
The book’s biggest problem is that it tripped over it’s own shoelaces and left the artwork by Nancy Ahn to brace it’s fall. The script, as you mentioned Elkin, feels phony and my best guess is that these two are out of touch with their audience. This is extremely problematic. Know why?
Owen King went to Vassar College and Columbia University and is the son of literary legend Stephen King. Stephen King. Stephen King. There we go. One more…STEPHEN KING!
Mark Jude Poirer is a graduate of one of the best, if not the best, writing programs in the nation – the Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. Not to mention writing seminars including: John Hopkins University, Georgetown University and Stanford University. He’s taught Bennington and Columbia and is currently teaching at Harvard. The only work I know him from is his work on the film Smart People.
All it took was a smidge of research. A few clicks and few clacks of the keyboard and there it was. All of a sudden I feel horrendously under qualified to be critiquing individuals with those sorts of background, but here I am, opening my big bearded mouth.
How in the world did these two manage to write such a mediocre book? You’d think that with the education these two have and the resources that are at their fingertips, they’d be able to come up with something of higher quality.
The back of the book mentioned that it’s “Mixing classic tropes from science fiction, indie comics, B movies and campus culture.” Nancy Ahn uses this to her advantage with lots of guts and gore of exploding aliens, goo covered students and grimy scenes. There’s a lot of over-the-top playful action that sets the tone for the book. The dialogue on the other hand, is horrible. I could imagine hearing some of that in junior high and high school, but college? No. Not at the University level. I couldn’t get past how forced the interactions with the characters felt. It relies on these tropes to produce humor, when it should have been left to natural interaction.
The artwork by Ahn is loose and flows with the oddly-paced action well. The linework uses line weight to convey depth and bold facial expressions to convey emotion. She’s the crutch that holds Intro To Alien Invasion up. There’s plenty of variety in her page layouts, from using angled panels to using arrows to show movement, action and location, often within the same panel.
The pacing seemed a bit off, but does follow some B-movie logic. So that said, it is sticking true to what I assume they were going for. I still think it would have been helpful to have chapter breaks to help pace the story. What did you think about the pacing, Elkin?
Elkin: I think the whole thing has fallen apart because the center does not hold. These guys have loosed mere anarchy upon the world for seemingly no reason other than either to garner some puerile giggles or because they thought that if they just smush every trope into a giant dough ball, it would somehow end up being a delicious cake.
It’s not just a question of pacing, I don’t think. It’s a result of “try hard”.
I had no idea about the pedigrees of its authors. Somehow, knowing this now only makes me sad. What could have been great is only reflective of, perhaps, entitlement or overreaching or, cynically, a slap dash cash grab.
Scribner should stay out of the OGN business if this is what they think the audience is clamoring for. Then again, Scribner does publish some Stephen King books, so perhaps Intro to Alien Invasion is kinda like a bonus handie to keep one of their top grossing authors placated. “Of course will publish your son’s book, Mr. King.”
Either that or they confused Owen King with Joe Hill and they looked at the market shares and ran with it.
God, Bettendorf, this whole thing has depressed me beyond end.
Bettendorf: I’m with you, Elkin. I think there is a lot at play here. Names, overreaching and of course, money. The most positive thing I can scrounge up is that Nancy Ahn was able to get some work out into the world. I couldn’t find much about her or her previous work. While I think the book doesn’t work on multiple levels, I think she did a great job doing her part. Most serious comics readers will be able to appreciate what she did for the book.