Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Travis Charest's "Spacegirl": volume 1


By now, there's been hundreds of webcomics, and they come in all shapes and sizes, varying greatly by subject matter and the publishing schedule. Yet, in a field as unique and experimental as comics published on the Internet, "Spacegirl" is an exception.

And it's not the case of having recently been made into a hardcover bound edition, that makes it special, as that has happened with a lot of other books, such as "Mom's cancer", "Freakangels", "the Perry Bible fellowship" and "Athena Voltaire". 

To the contrary, most of those titles have been updated with new pages on something resembling a regular schedule, which is something that "Spacegirl" seemingly never even strived for. 

But that's because it's a Travis Charest comic, and that in itself is special in all sorts of ways. Travis Charest came to prominence in early 90-ies, following Jim Lee's "WildC.A.T.s", and found himself shortly penciling comics written by James Robinson and Alan Moore. It was astonishing how quick he reinvented himself from an Image-style artist into an author with his own very particular style. And yet, as his fame rose, his output slowed down until it became clear that the page-rates he's been paid allow him to take all the time he needs to meticulously produce work on the level he's comfortable with. Which lead to his work becoming less and less seen, until he left for France to work on Alex Jodorowsky's epic "Meta-Barons" saga.

After infamously taking seven years to produce thirty pages he was satisfied with, the publisher "Humanoids" decided to break off their collaboration with him. Getting back to American comics, he has since restricted himself to applying his particular style on covers. 

Still, his sequential work could still be seen sporadically, in the webcomic, called "Spacegirl". What started out years ago as a retro-adventure story, proceeds to this day at the pace artist's comfortable with. And that means that just like once the readers waited months to see a "WildC.A.T.s" issue with some Charest pages in it, nowadays the same thing is happening with webcomic, serialized in panels.

The format is familiar to the newstrips comics were originally published in, but it lacks the weekly schedule the pre-WW2 fans were familiar with. The art is very familiar to Hal Foster's classical figures though, and reading "Flash Gordon" filtered through Charest's style seems to be enough for fans to continue checking out the links, even after long months of the lack of updates. There was apparently enough interest to warrant the publication of the first volume in print. And that is roughly 60 pages, each featuring a single panel drawing.

Obviously, consistency is key in discussing Charest's work on "Spacegirl", and it's interesting to see how it measures up taken on it's own.


The serial opens with a "widescreen" black and white inked drawing, showing a spaceship's emergency  landing, and proceeds quickly establishing the book's protagonist. She is as much as a stock type as can be excepted, serving mainly to introduce us to the action in a more dynamic way than the traditional caption that litter those early pages. In the matter of panels, we are taken from one twist to the other, with Charest seemingly content with establishing one piece of futuristic technical design and than moving to another. 

Suddenly, the trend breaks as a color panel appears, featuring the book's antagonist in a manner evoking threats from the Golden age of comics. 

The very next panel seemingly takes us back to the heavily captioned, technical design of a pair of robot minions, but twists still keep coming. A third party is introduced to Spacegirl in the very next panel, as the artist continues in a new direction, this time spotlighting the action in a more thorough and fluid manner.

And just as Charest has seemingly found his voice from the experimental approach he employed in the first panels, a couple of confusing panels break up the fight's flow, thus he is forced the heavy-handed captions again, enabling him to get his point across.


Coming at the story's half-point, Charest seems much more confident and falls back to the tried and true story methods, following the action sequence with a lengthier sequence, focusing on the two characters. The dialogue is stripped down to convey the most information, interestingly featuring yet another panel that breaks from the black and white standard, seemingly at random. 

Charest patiently delays the action, determined to make the book count as more than a of contrived action sequences strung together, using just a couple of panels to foreshadow the enemy's presence and keep the tension going. Those panels also serve to show the passage of time in the movements of Spacegirl and her new ally, until all is set for the inevitable stand-off.


A couple of apparently rushed panels with strange perspective later, and for the first time we see Charest exhibiting a firm grasp on the particulars of his imaginary universe. The battle that follows is made much more interesting for the revelations has in store for all characters, as the confrontation culminates in each identifying themselves as to what they truly are. 

The final pages show the result of that emotional moment, taking Spacegirl and the only other survivor from the unknown, hastily defined, and scarcely inhabited planet to Delta-Moon space station. Still, Charest is not content with leaving Spacegirl in a spaceship, thus bringing in one final twist, and ending the chapter on a familiar note.

Taking the fully-colored epilogue, which premiered in the collected edition, it's clear that Charest is not done with the project. Designed as an artistic exercise, he has in time come to accept it as no doubt the purest and most personal of the projects he's been working on. The result is a work that has found it's own voice and with a potentially background material to help continue the serial. The reality is that his work-for-hire on the established franchises compels his good-natured serial to continue as it has until now.

Thankfully, moving slowly, from panel to panel, is the way his fans have enjoyed his work years now.  Thus, there's no fear that the delays on the completion of the second volume will come as any surprise. And until Spacegirl matures into a brand capable enough to stand on it's own, it will be inseparable from it's creator, the unique Travis Charest.


msa said...

hello hi! i'm very curious about how many the artist comic, such as travis charest, earn per month? how much he been paid for one page??do u have any idea....

Vanja said...

Well, Travis Charest is by no means an ordinary comics artist, but how high does his page rate go is anyone's guess. Judging by the fact that he seems to make a living doing covers and commissions, completely avoiding the daily grind of traditional comic book art, I'd say that it couldn't be anything less than 500$ apiece. But then, only he and his clients would now.

As for the traditional comic book artist, the last I heard, a page of professional superhero art was worth 300$ at the big publishers. But, take that number with a grain of salt.