#4: Chicago Comics Creators

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The Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo is only a month away, and I’m counting down my top picks for C2E2 2013! These are the top 5 people, events, and programs at my favorite comic con of the year. Next on my list, a fantastic lineup of local artists and writers working right here in Chicago!

Our city is home to a host of talented comics creators, including the fine folks at Four Star Studios. Several of these artists will be present for a panel Saturday night—Chicago Comics from the Chicago Scene, moderated by Comic Book Resources News Editor Kiel Phegley. All of the work coming out of Four Star Studios is pretty remarkable, but I’ve been especially keen on checking out Tim Seeley’s work on Hack/Slash. This ongoing series  turns the horror genre on its head by taking the sexy coed out of the victim role, handing her a baseball bat, and turning her loose on any would-be slashers.

I’ve just started the Hack/Slash Omnibus and so far I’ve read through three story arcs—”Euthanized,” “Girls Gone Dead,” and “Comic Book Carnage.” Fun, tongue-in-cheek, and full of violent mayhem, Seeley doesn’t hold back on the action in these books.

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Seeley’s also very aware of the genre he’s playing in, and there’s a lot of self-referential humor and fourth-wall-breaking moments. And since our protagonist is genre savvy, you’ll often find her instigating clichés to get the scene going. Only three chapters in and I’ve already seen her don a cheerleader outfit, slip on a blonde wig, and start making out with a random guy (and girl) just to get the slashers to come out. While I appreciate Seeley’s interest in playing with genre and convention, I find myself wondering where this is all going.

As a storyteller, it’s challenging to manipulate and comment on pop culture tropes without falling into the same, stale conventions that we’re trying to revitalize. For example, “Girls Gone Dead” takes great pains to comment on the over-sexualization, misrepresentation, and exploitation of drunk,  drugged-out young women in the “Girls Gone Wild” videos. It also aims to depict the men who buy them as lecherous, immature, and laughably pitiful—and those who profit from them as even more despicable.

I don’t disagree with the commentary, but doesn’t it lose some of its credibility after we’ve just flipped through 60 or so pages of gratuitous cleavage, wet t-shirts, and upskirt shots? Sure, maybe it’s all intended as irony, but is self-awareness enough to subvert a trope? How much can you pile on before it just is what it is?

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Cover of Hack/Slash #3: “Girls Gone Dead”

Hack/Slash is certainly not alone in facing these challenges. Both Chinatown and Apocalypse Man have strong horror themes and, like Seeley, Brad and I attempt to engage our audience by both moving with and straying from the conventions of the genre.  Master storytellers are skilled at working in this narrative space to great effect—such as in the genre-bending horror film, The Cabin in the Woods. But it’s a tricky line to walk. When executed properly, the storyteller can play on the reader’s expectations, throwing well-timed curveballs to create powerful and compelling art. But when performed clumsily, jumping from preachy commentary to softcore fanservice—it will simply be confusing.

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Panel from Hack/Slash #3: “Girls Gone Dead”

I’ve only just begun the series, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where Seeley takes his characters (and his readers) as it continues. If you’d like to read along with me, now’s the time to do it. The Hack/Slash Omnibus is the Sun Bros TPB Pick for April, and will be 20% off at First Aid Comics all month long. And after you’re done, you can ask Seeley and the other guys at Four Star Studios all your burning questions Saturday night at C2E2!

Check back here every Monday as I go through the rest of my Top Picks for C2E2 2013. There are three more weeks and three more previews to go before the convention goes live in Chicago. And if you’ll be there, be sure to let us know. We’ll be speaking Friday, April 26 at 1:3opm in room W473 for CSC-1: Kickstarting Your Comics. We’ll also be tabling at Artist Alley Booth L14. See you there!

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