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Tue, December 14th, 2010 at 1:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

THE WORKS OF SERGIO BLEDA

I finished reading "The Wednesday Conspiracy," a book I had started talking about last week. It's the latest release from Dark Horse's partnership with SAF Comics, the translators of such fine comics as "Boy Vampire"/"Vampire Boy" and "Dragenero." Here's the promo text for the book, which is fairly spoiler-free while still giving you the gist:

Think you've got problems? Meet the patients in Dr. Burton's Wednesday afternoon support group. Violet carries a jar full of demons. Roger can read minds. Akiko talks with her dead parents through the bathroom mirror. Joe is an exorcist. Brian is pyrokinetic. And then, of course, there's Charles.

They've been thrown together by the luck of the draw, stuck with supernatural powers they don't want and can't control. But when something begins to pick them off one by one, the surviving members of the Wednesday Conspiracy find themselves the last, reluctant line of defense between the reincarnation of an ancient evil and the fate of the world.

The final book does turn out to be very much plot-driven. The ending happens with a quick thud. And the characters are relatively thin. Yet none of that bothered me. For starters, it's a beautiful book to look at. The pages are filled with art, both characters and backgrounds. Sergio Bleda watercolors his own art, giving it a unique style in today's market, but also providing a point of interest. The story moves at a good pace. While it does slow down to bring in the inevitable bits of back story and origin, those bits are incorporated into the story well. A couple of them stick out like sore questionable thumbs on your first read-through, but a later review of the book shows how they get inserted into the main storyline with ease. Still, it's all plot mechanics. No page is wasted, and everything counts towards something, even the bits that seem odd for the sake of weirdness, or like filler. That's generally good writing.

And because this isn't a company-owned series, Bleda gets to kill characters and place them in danger however he likes. It's refreshing to read a comic where characters die and stay dead. (For the most part.) The body count is relatively high, but it shows that the villains of the book aren't holding anything back for the convenience of the book's trademark. There's no worry about setting up a sequel here.

I particularly enjoyed Violet, the character you see with a jar of demons on the cover of the book. She's by far the most interesting character in the book. And while she doesn't appear to be the lead character as the story starts, you can definitely see this book as being her story by the time is ends. She's got attitude to spare, and it's fun to see a character in a book speak her mind. She doesn't hold back. She doesn't worry about what might make others uncomfortable. She says it all, and it adds a great dynamic to the team. Any time a word balloon appeared above a drawing of her, I was expecting fun stuff to happen. It often did.

Like I said last week, it's not the most original comic in the world, but it does its job well. It's an enjoyable story that is very easy on the eyes thanks to some watercolored artwork. The story is complete in and of itself, and there is a character arc or two to be had. The book very definitely ends in a different place than it begins. You'd think that much would be standard with every story, but it's not always true. For example:

Dark Horse also published, through its SAF association, Bleda's "Vampire Dance."

This one is the story of a vampire, his friend who loves him but dares not speak of it, an outsider that gets sucked in and another outsider who's brought in. And then there's the prerequisite sex, neck-biting, blood-letting, splashing through the city sewers and jumps across rooftops. Unfortunately, the book never sucked me in, to speak, and the whole thing moves along at a decent, but pointless clip. There are a few sequences that feel like they were inserted because it seemed like something cool to draw at the time. But that's not enough, and the art winds up getting in the way of the story on more than one occasion. If the book were in the same watercolored style as "The Wednesday Conspiracy," it might have worked. As it is, the thick ink lines and crammed panels are a little tiring. Bleda's style is definitely there, but it's not as refined.

Worse, nobody changes, nobody learns any lessons, most people/vampires die, and life goes on. You might make a point that real life is most like that, but this is a dramatic story. I'm looking for a point. "Vampire Dance" lacks that. Yes, the story ends. No, it doesn't feel complete. It's a hollow victory, at best.

It also lacks the color that Bleda used so well in "The Wednesday Conspiracy." You can see that the artist still thinks that way. The book is in color, but done in a very heavy ink wash style. If you just added flat color to the book, you'd get an effective color scheme from the way Bleda lays in the shadows and dimension. The problem is, the book feels cramped. There's lots of stuff on every page, often leaving little negative space, and even that blank space gets filled with grays. Bleda's art also reeks of Frank Miller here. It'd have to be that "Sin City" was a certain influence in some of the work, particular when the lead vampire, Jacob, is seen jumping across the city in a crouched position with his boot souls raised up to the reader.

There's two parts to the book. The main part is a collection of what looks to have been a five issue comic book series. The second part is another serial, in shorter parts, that details the "origin" of one of the main characters, Ines. It's mostly useless. It's a typical vampire origin story: how she had a bad life, fell for the wrong guy and became a fanged creature. The artwork is simpler, as well, lacking the gray washes and much of the stylization of the other two efforts mentioned above.

To be fair, "Vampire Dance" is Bleda's breakout work. Made in 1997, Lambiek.net notes that he was nominated for Best Newcomer at the International Comics Festival of Barcelona. "The Wednesday Conspiracy" is the work of a much more mature artist, done nearly a decade later. Interestingly, he's assisted Kano at DC, and had two other SAF Comics translated into English, "Bloody Winter" and "Sleep, Little Girl." I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm pretty sure I have that first one in a box somewhere, unread. Might be time to dig it up.

If you have the spare coins, the $20 for "The Wednesday Conspiracy" makes for a pleasant diversion. Only if you're a Bleda completist should you shell out the $17 for the "Vampire Dance" book.

To learn more about Bleda,there's a blog that offers up some information on his releases. Hasn't been updated in a year, but the historical information is of interest. Also, check out his Flickr account for works-in-progress, storyboards, and some impressive sketches done with his Wacom tablet.

ORIGINAL ART PRESERVATION

Sad news over the weekend: Don Lineberger died in a house fire. Lineberger was a musician with an extensive list of credits. Where he intersects with comics is that he was a comic fan with a large collection of original art from EC, all of which was destroyed in the same fire. Robot6 has the news links.

It got me to wondering, as an original art collector, what I should be doing with those boards sitting in portfolios, in sleeves, and hanging on my walls? We talk these days so much about making sure to backup our digital data. Luckily, there are easy and relatively inexpensive ways to do that, from cloud storage solutions to external hard drives. But original art? Do we make high quality photocopies and put those in an envelope at a relative's house? That doesn't seem right.

As original art owners, we are also custodians of one-of-a-kind items that are, by definition, irreplaceable. Short of putting it in some kind of fireproof vault deep in a mountain, what can we do?

The sad answer is, not much. We can make sure the electrical work in our house is sound and that our kids aren't playing with matches and that the chimney is working properly and all the other basic things we do as home owners to prevent catastrophic loss already. While our computer is replaceable and even our entire comic collections, that original art is our responsibility to more than ourselves, isn't it? I don't mean to get on some sort of high pedestal and declare Original Comic Book Art Collecting to be some higher calling, but the fact is that we are holding onto small bits of comic book history. We should do something to protect that work. We shouldn't seek out to destroy or damage it in any way, but what can we do to prevent against something worse?

Again, not much.

The only thing I can think to do to preserve these pages for the rest of time is to do high quality scans of them and treat that data like the rest of our computer data. Back it up, share it, replicate it. The bits might not be worth very much, but the information in them is.

Not that I expect many people 50 years from now will be wondering if Vic Bridges wrote any notes to the colorist in the first issue of "Freak Force." I'm not kidding myself here, folks. It's just that it would be a shame to lose it, much as it's a shame that we lost so much original art in the early days of comics to artists who thought nothing of erasing a page to reuse it, or publishers who shredded it to save money on mailing it back.

I've been scanning my collection in recently. I'm nowhere near done yet, but I think this weekend's news is enough to kick my butt back into gear on that project.

How to get in touch: Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

Where else I hang out: AugieShoots.com || VariousandSundry.com

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