October 10, 2009

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Plastic Farm Volume 1 Sowing Seeds on Fertile Soil

Written by Rafer Roberts
Illustrated by Rafer Roberts, Danielle Corsetto, Dennis Culver, Dave Morgan, Wendi Strang-Frost, and Jake Warrenfeltz
Self-Published

This was one of the few "big' purchases I made at SPX this past year, taking a chance on the trade rather than grabbing a few of the single issues after paging through it and talking to the author. It's the beginning of a lengthy series that, while it's certainly not as cute as "Bone," has the same feel of a tightly planned idea headed by one person who has a vision for the material.

Either that, or it's the work of a madman who is having visions. I'm honestly not quite sure.

Regardless, this is one twisted idea of a story that follows quite a few disparate paths that only begin to show their cohesiveness by the ending section--a perfect way to close act one of a storyline. Written as single issues in various formats and apparently now also as a web-based comic, the trade reformats things a bit and also places the material in 17 sections, as opposed to the original twelve issues.

The story of Plastic Farm is that of a man, Chester, who is either totally crazy or has the potential to reshape the world. Roberts unveils this concept by weaving in and out of time, starting with the most interesting idea (a dinosaur-riding cowboy who can make weapons appear ala a superhero) and building through the mystery of why this Chester guy might be the unwitting pawn of a plans of a sinister cult who've monitored him since birth.

Rather than give the reader a linear progression through the story, Roberts brilliantly skips all over the place, letting us put together the pieces over the course of about 300 pages of comics. This causes some head-scratching here and there (I'm still not so sure about how the hungry cannibals fit in) but in return gives the reader a rewarding chance to engage himself in the material. Several times, I found myself saying, "Wait a minute, isn't that so-and-so from an earlier chapter?" and going back to look. It's at those moments where the story really shines and shows that Roberts knows exactly what he's planning and how he wants to reveal it.

This does, however, make it a bit hard to describe the plot to a potential reader, especially since the best part of Plastic Farm is in seeing how the plot unfolds in amongst the weavings of about a half dozen character arcs.

I will do my best, however, to explain the story in brief: As I mentioned, Chester is at the heart of a potential conspiracy story that involves a strange cult. This cult may or may not be responsible for turning the world into a fake reality--or plastic farm. Everything in this story, from dream cowboys to lost pilots to human guinea pigs, ties into that idea in some way. By the end, Chester has revealed some of his secrets to a rag-tag group of people (along with the reader) and a confrontation is soon to be had. But how do the others fit into Chester's story?

I'll be honest--damned if I know. But I'm betting that Roberts does.

Helping with the off-kilter nature of the material is the mixture of artistic styles. Roberts gets a small group of artisans and sets them loose on some of the material inside. This allows for a different look when we're dealing with, say, the cannibals versus the farcical story of a rich widower who makes an asinine mistake. Roberts himself does a fine job with his artistic contributions, keeping the eye of the reader off-balance at all times and using unique page structuring for the critical denouncement.

There is a lot of innovative art choices in Plastic Farm, far more than you might expect from something like this that has the overall style of a scratchy comic artist. The use of black spaces, continual shifting of page layout (helped, no doubt, by the varying artists), and the very clever use of some old Kirby tricks works quite well here.

About the only thing one could use against Plastic Farm is that it is definitely not a restrained work by any means. This is Robert Crumb-South Park-Eric Powell territory, with quite a few crude jokes, more f-bombs than an HBO special, and quite a bit of disturbing imagry. (Roberts himself notes he asked one artist to tone it down a bit, then went ahead and made the image worse when he drew it himself.) I have no issue with "low-brow" humour (after all, the Goon is one of my favorite comics), so I found it funny, if a bit gross here and there. If you aren't one for that type of material, then Plastic Farm may not be a good choice for you. (Sample a bit of it online, at least, before you commit to the trade.)

Plastic Farm was a pleasant find from SPX, and I'm glad I picked it up. Filled with a bit of mystery, a little noir, cracks on religious ferver, the promise of hope, and even a little baseball, this story features a sampling of everything in order to create a whole that both makes perfect sense and is totally screwed up all at the same time. In short, Rafer Roberts knows how to tell good comics.

You can buy a copy here
, or see Roberts at a comics show somtime. But don't tell him I forgot to mention the hilarity that is the sequences with the four-eyed creature. Those are just silly, Tom and Jerry type fun. (Nevermind, I managd to find a place to toss that in, too. Now this review is complete. Go to the website and check it out!)