Vengeance, Nevada is a comic from writer B.J. Mendelson and artist Piotr Czaplarski, independently published by Earth’s Temporary Solution through Comixology’s Comixology Submit system. I love checking out indie comics, and I’m glad to have had the chance to give this one a look.
B.J. Mendelson is an author who has written books titled Social Media is Bullshit and Privacy: And How We Get It Back. Vengeance, Nevada would seem to be his first foray into comics. Piotr Czaplarski is a freelance artist, with a couple years experience, whose previous experience includes illustrating a handful of other independent novels and comics. The point is: this is an indie comic in the truest sense of the word.
I came into Vengeance, Nevada with absolutely no idea what it was about. The plot synopsis on Comixology did not help with that matter, either, as it simply reads “You should be careful what you wish for.” Coming out of this first issue, though, I do have a solid idea of what this series would be, and that is the single-most important thing for a first issue. If you can’t give me some idea of what I’m going to get in issue #2, I’m not buying it. The actual synopsis, after reading this issue: Kristen Jacobs is a police officer in Nevada. She and her family, consisting of her husband Jake and her son from a previous relationship Ben, have been here for a year. The events of the issue throw her life into turmoil.
What’s more, Czaplarski’s art is solid. Visually, the story flows well, and this series plays with the use of color in a fun way. It’s mostly black-and-white, with a few color panels thrown in. There’s no explicit reasoning apparent in the use of color here, but the fun is in the potential for how it could be used in the future to complement the story. Really, the highlight of Czaplarski’s illustration is in the panel work; not only does does the art flow well, but it reads easily. It’s particularly good, for someone who seemingly is not heavily experienced in illustrating comics.
There was one artistic choice I wanted to highlight, and I’d guess it came from Mendelson, and it is the fact we first learn the lead protagonist’s name from a coffee cup with “Christen” written on it, a la Starbucks. It’s not until later we find out her name is actually “Kristen”. That’s a terrific visual gag.
Even though I come away from this issue with a firm grasp on what to expect in future issues, the physical act of reading this issue is a task. There’s a high amount of dialogue here, and it’s not presented especially well; not for a first issue. To explain, the issue’s plot is almost entirely told in flashback, so we’re already nonlinear. On top of that, much of the dialogue is laid over scenes that do not pertain to what is being said; they are events taking place somewhere else. This is a mechanism I probably would not mind as much if I were several issues into a series. As it is, I’m reading dialogue from characters I just met while looking at an unexplained action sequence with characters I know nothing about. It’s a mechanism that is clearly being employed intentionally, for plot reasons, so I’m not suggesting it was some kind of error; I’m just not a fan of the narrative choice this early. It disconnects me from the character I’m supposed to be getting to know–and the dialogue does provide a good amount of character exposition for Kristen–and intentionally seeks to confuse me with characters I’ve not yet met.
As for the artwork, it does read very well–visually. Czaplarski is a skilled illustrator, but his lettering could use some work. This is a difficult problem to parse, because on one hand, it is an illustrator’s job to make the dialogue work within the art; on the other hand, it is the writer’s job to make the illustrator’s job possible. When the dialogue is sparse, Czaplarski handles it really well–particularly in his use of onomatopoeia–but when the dialogue is heavier, things get a little hectic. So I do lay partial blame for this on Mendelson; at the same time, the placement of speech bubbles/caption boxes/etc. gets somewhat lazy in these wordier panels. The bubbles feels as though they were not considered when the panels were drawn and end up kind of just lying on top of them instead of feeling as though they are a part of their given panel. This is something you expect to see more when a series’ artist is separate from its letterer, so a lack of communication can lead to problems; but Czaplarski is this issue’s illustrator and letterer, so I think I chalk this up mostly to inexperience, which is fine.
Full disclosure, this comic was provided to me by B.J. Mendelson, in exchange for an honest review. Frankly, if I were to have come across this comic on Comixology, I absolutely would not have considered buying it. The cover, by Isidore Koliavras, is very eye-catching, but the lack of any plot description on Comixology is a dealbreaker; I get nothing from “You should be careful what you wish for.” I mean, I’ve read the issue now, and I’m still not clear what that sentence means, in relation to what happens in the story.
But I did read it, and I would say it shows definite potential. The final page actually introduces an element to the story that isn’t really present throughout the issue, but it does do its job in piquing my interest for what lies beyond “to be continued”, so I’d say this issue is a success, based just on that. Do I recommend you buy this? Not yet. It’s an indie comic, and this is its first issue, which has been available since November 2017. There are clear plans for future issues, but they’re not here yet. I recall experiencing a similar situation recently with the series Calexit from Black Mask Studios. Calexit #1 was released in July 2017, and its second issue didn’t arrive until February 2018. The difference there is not only was Calexit #1 very good, but it also felt like a contained story you could read by itself. Here, Vengeance, Nevada is clearly waiting for its story to continue, so I’m not inclined to recommend it until there’s more available.