Publisher: Cabal Comics
Writer: Fraser Campbell
Artist: James Corcoran
Colours: David B Cooper
Lettering: Colin Bell
Release Date: 5th November 2016 (Thought Bubble Festival)
Fresh from a successful Kickstarter and set for release at this year’s Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds, Alex Automatic is a wonderfully inventive, willfully disorientating spy story from Fraser Campbell and James Corcoran. It’s also a fairly difficult comic to review without ruining a lot of its impact, so I’ll do my best keep things vague. The story is based around Alex Anderson, a government agent who has been subjected to an experimental treatment to implant him with the various skills and memories required to help him complete his missions. Unfortunately, the process has left him incredibly unstable, to the point where he now thinks he’s a robot super-spy from a cheesy 70s TV show. Two inquisitive journalists decide to try and break him out, gifting him his freedom only to realise the full extent of the damage that has actually been done to him.
Visually, Corcoran does an impressive job with his thick-lined “Golden Age” art style, an aesthetic which meshes perfectly with the old-timey spy thriller portion of Campbell’s story. Colourist extraordinaire David B Cooper fleshes things out nicely with his pleasingly solid work, giving the book a slightly exaggerated pop art feel that fits the 70s TV show vibe like a glove, and Colin Bell’s design and lettering are flawless as always.
My only real criticism – and it’s not necessarily a justified criticism, as it was clearly intended by the creators – is that it’s incredibly difficult to tell whether we’re seeing reality or Alex’s twisted version of the world at any given moment. The lines are continually blurred, and while Alex himself noticeably changes visually from his bedraggled, exhausted, real-world self to the glossy, bionic, “Six Million Dollar Man” analogue that he thinks he is, the other characters and situations are little tougher to figure out. That said, there are still a couple of beautifully juxtaposed scenes where we get to see the sharp contrast between what Alex thinks he’s doing and what he’s actually doing, to suitably shocking effect.
While its unusual style of storytelling and frequently confusing narrative may potentially alienate some readers, Campbell deserves a huge amount of respect for refusing to play it safe with his latest offering. The spy genre has, let’s face it, been done to death in recent years, but the decision to frame the story from the point of view of a delusional government agent who sees himself as the bionic lead character in a cheesy, over-the-top 70s TV show results in something uniquely engaging. This is also a book that benefits greatly from repeat viewings, and once the reader has a firmer grasp on Campbell’s unconventional narrative, a second read-through is all but guaranteed to deliver far greater rewards than the first, and a third greater still.
Dramatic, absurd and with a surprising tinge of sadness to it, Alex Automatic is exactly the type of unconventional story the UK small press scene thrives on, and is more than worth a few of your hard-earned quid.
Is this the end for Alex Automatic? I damn well hope not.
UNLETTERED PREVIEW ARTWORK
[Click to Enlarge]
You can pick yourself up a copy of Alex Automatic if you’re attending the Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds next month, but if you can’t attend, make sure to follow the official Alex Automatic Facebook Page for all the news on how to get your hands on a copy.