There is and always has been a trend in storytelling towards telling topical tales, those that rely on knowledge of a current event or element of our culture and in today in comics the most common example of this is the MMORPG. It only makes sense that this would be the case as there is of course a substantial crossover between those who write and read comics and those who play those games. So when they write a story set within a World of Warcraft clone they are in essence writing what they and their audience know; unfortunately though this is not enough, not on it’s own. The problem with this type of topical tale – whatever that topic might be – is that it’s appeal will be both temporary and exclusive, two severe limitations, and its drama will be over-derivative, a fatal flaw; so when I saw that Josh Gorfain’s Meatspace was going to deal with MMORPG’s I was instantly crestfallen, though as it turns out I had no real reason to be. It is the exception that proves the rule, it does relevant right by seemingly not doing it at all.
The first thing that strikes you about Meatspace while you are reading is that it in no way feels slave to the confines of reality; really it is relevant and relatable only to the criminally insane, on the surface at least. To talk to much about the plot would be doing a disservice to the book and its future readers for it unfolds in an interesting inverse; layers of the narrative are constantly revealed to be fantasy, but instead of then crashing down to a lower level like we expect it to the story actually transcends up to an even stranger one. This occurs on the level of character as well as setting, this comic constantly twists around expectations and keeps you guessing in a genre we all now know by heart: shadows are revealed to be sons, fathers are failures in need of assistance and everything we know to be true here is flipped for there. It might sound confusing, but more often than not these perverted power dynamics are actually what makes the book so very compelling.
Even if that weren’t the case, even if this was just a simple sci-fi story it would still be a strong one thanks to the complexity of its world. When it comes to comic detail Brandon Graham has been pushing the limits of late in brilliant works like King City and Prophet but had that not been the case Meatspace would certainly have read as one of the more intricate worlds out there. Each and every one of Maclean’s panels is packed to the brim with crazy characters and concepts, most of which go entirely unexplained in the script of the book itself; we are simply asked to accept that this is a world where some monkey’s have achieved sentience. Most of the time this, plus the inventive page structure that the pair have developed, is amazing, however there are times, primarily during some action sequences, where it starts to impact upon cohesion; this though is a sacrifice that I am willing to make.
The real surprise though is that underneath all of these strange, surreal sci-fi/fantasy elements Meatspace still manages to tell the story it initially set out to. This isn’t another iteration of The Guild or even Nonplayer, there is no ‘real’ side of the story to balance the dynamic -and the book is better for it – but when you look closely enough you will see that the WoW phenomenon is still being explored and on an even more personal level. Instead of relying on name recognition or our existing relationships Gorfain has just broken down the illness into its most interesting symptoms – isolation, escapism, dispriotitisation and social despair – and used them to tell a timeless, universal story, albeit one with robots and dinosaurs.
This is only a first issue, the first of the series and the first made by the men behind it, and you can tell: the story is incomplete, the themes aren’t entirely realized and some moments are a mite rougher than others – the syntax of the opening narration is a little iffy – but both artist and author had seemed to improve by the end of this issue alone and the ideas and execution otherwise are such that I will be along for the journey till the end. They have set themselves a big and busy stage with this starting issue, but if the boys can pull their story off and tie everything together than this will be a series to remember long after WoW has faded into oblivion.
isn’t available for a wide audience at this stage – I was given a free copy by Gorfain at a bar – so you can’t go out and buy it yet (LIE: You can – and should – still get yourself a copy of this comic right HERE), but I do (still) recommend that you all keep you eyes out for it in the near future and throw a little something their way when they start a second Kickstarter so that we can all see the rest of the series; I know I will be.