Blue Collar #1 & 2

Posted: Tuesday, November 23, 2004
By: Darren Schroeder

Cover of Blue Collar #1 & 2 Creator(s): Craig Stephens
Publishers: Self Published
From: USA
Price: $4 includes shipping (US)

Sometimes the key to a story lies in the way you tell it. The rhythms of the narrative set the tone and put you into an unusual state. Craig's anthology lives and breaths in the look and feels of the stories he tells, creating an atmosphere of stillness and determination that grips the reader.

The subject matter in these issues ranges from autobiographical to science fiction. The autobiographical pieces collect anecdotes and conversations. Stephen has an ear for quirky dialogue, such as the conversation between a groups of friends about how to react to an aggressive look: do you fight or just walk away? The ludicrousness of the conversation is apparent to some of the characters, but they soon find them selves caught up in the dilemma.

Craig appears in a couple of stories, most memorably in the one where he tries to find out who left a mess in art-room. It is quite amusing to see how he mocks himself by giving the story hard-boiled dialogue in the narration. The culprit doesn't share Craig's concern about the 'crime', and soon both he and Craig are wondering what all the fuss is about.

The humorous tone and entertaining dialogue are combined to good effect in the continuing serial The Negotiator which focuses on a chap from another dimension who possesses advanced mediation abilities and concentrated people skills. His genetically engineered 'race' have solved all the problems in their dimension, so he has come to a new one to do what he does best where he is needed. The logical and direct ways he deals with conflict are very amusing, as are the aggressors' reactions to being faced with calm and sensible advice in the middle of a fight.

On top of the clever writing, much of the artwork Craig produces has an appealing retro look that puts things into a film-noire atmosphere. The locations have an ominous feel, with the cities being strangely deserted. The homes have sparely decorated interiors with lots of shadows. The characters spend a lot of time looking at the reader with violence in their eyes.

The books made an instant impression from the moment I opened the envelope, and the stories have an off-kilter quality that insures they stick in the mind. The humour is engaging (check out the alternative take on Lord of the Rings for some clever parody) without taking the obvious route.

In a Word: uncompromising.

If you have a comment or question about Small Press then feel free to contact me