August 17, 2012

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SPX Spotlight 2012: Rich Barrett and Nathan Sorry

Welcome to another entry in my SPX Spotlight 2012!  You can find all of my SPX Spotlight posts, including those from past years, by clicking here.

Rich Barrett is a brave man.  He's not afraid to base a story on one of the most tragic moments in American history.  You have to give him credit for that, but what's even better is that the comic is quite good and worth your time.

Prior to looking up Barrett, I was generally unfamiliar with his work.  There are just so many webcomics out there that it's impossible to keep up with everyone.  Like a lot of the newcomers on this year's Spotlight, I knew the name via mutual Twitter friends and/or have spoken to them on Twitter now and again.  In Barrett's case, I remembered him from the Alphabet projects that have been going on over the past year.  I was easily able to catch up with the story via affordable PDF editions and now I have a new story that I'm very interested in following along with.

Barrett will be at SPX with hard copies of the first two volumes of the collected edition of his webcomic, Nathan Sorry.  So far, I've read what I imagine are the contents of volume one, and it's definitely intriguing. A low-level corporate drone is used and abused by his boss, who turns out to be one hell of a white-collar criminal (and possibly worse).  When Sorry misses his flight to New York City, he's saved from death at the hands of the 9/11 terrorists.  He's also in possession of one hell of a golden parachute.  What he does next, and how he got to this position, form the narrative of this thriller.

The idea is brilliant.  In the confusion of the attack, the initial death estimates were well over the casualties of the Battle of Antietam, then settled months later to a horrifying, but far lower, total.  It would be easy to disappear, and given how crappy Sorry's life was and the overwhelming temptation of his opportunity to start over, his actions feel natural given the set-up presented to him.

What becomes clear almost immediately is that Sorry is not going to be very good at this.  He's told once in the early flashbacks that he doesn't have the aggressiveness needed to succeed, and I have a feeling this is all going to end badly for him.  Of course, in the meantime, there's plenty of story to tell, with Barrett expanding the world from both directions.

Barrett's illustration style reminds me a bit of his colleague Ben Towle in the way that he uses colors in his work, as well as the shading style and ink lines.  The characters themselves look different as they attack radically different subjects, but the overall feel is complimentary, at least to me.  I really like how Barrett positions his characters on the page to draw the reader's attention to things that aren't mentioned in dialogue.  The art says what the characters refuse to, such as in the example above where it's clear that Sorry is in a world that he doesn't belong in.

While Nathan Sorry is a thriller in terms of its plot, something you might find as a late-summer movie, it does move a bit more slowly than it probably should in the early going.  Barrett is building the mystery carefully, but sometimes I wish he'd move things along a bit faster.  It's hard, because he's got to tell us Sorry's past as well as his future.  However, for a story of this type, I think a bit more action might have helped really sell it for those who like this genre.  Overall, however, it reads quite well and the concept of waiting for the other shoe to drop firmly and finally on Sorry's head is a great storyline to follow.

In addition to the two volumes of Nathan Sorry, Barrett will be bringing along a set of alphabet animal flash cards and postcards of his alphabeasts.  [You'll find several of the alphabet folks appearing in the spotlight, because a) I love alphabet themes and b) I know a number of the participants.-Rob]  If you cannot make SPX, you can find more on Rich Barrett at his website.