Progress #6

Posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2007
By: Steve Saville

Cover of Progress #6 Creator(s): Jared Lane
Publishers: Self Published
From: New Zealand
Price: NZ$ 9.00

Like Christmas a new edition of Jared Lane’s “Progress” only comes but once a year, and like Christmas it is always worth the wait.

Jared’s ongoing story [now in its sixth part], centred on three young inhabitants of a futuristic Christchurch, is now an established leader in the New Zealand small press scene and in fact deserves that sort of recognition internationally.

This futuristic world is a grim one, society has all but collapsed and a free market economy runs rampant as market forces drive society. Thrown into this mix is the rise and rise of ‘Bots,’ robots initially designed to serve the diverse needs of their human creators but now showing signs of evolving into something else.

If that is the broad setting then the specific storyline of “Progress” concerns three main characters [Nathan, Chester and Jasmin] who are on the run after having stolen a ‘bot’ who claims [with some conviction] to actually be Jasmin.
Herein lays the mystery that the characters are trying to unravel.

It has, to this point, been a captivating and engrossing story and the reader has been dragged into a world that the characters themselves seem to have a limited understanding of and this has added to the feeling of powerlessness and confusion that Jared is deliberately trying to create. Just how does an individual make a stand against a society when he has no power, no credibility and no real evidence?

The narrative has always been strong but it is the art work that stands out in this title. Jared’s’ fire line attention to detail has ensured that the backgrounds to his frames are a real visual highpoint. And here is where I note a slight change in #6 over previous editions.

As I have just said the interior art work and in particular the attention to detail is of the highest quality but in the past the covers have tended to be a little, well, ordinary, giving little indication of what lies within. Here though we have a stunning cover. A menacing and threatening picture of the Kaiapoi Kid [more about him soon] demands the reader’s attention. It is beautifully painted and worth spending some time examining.

However the art work in the main story appears to be a little more rushed than normal, a little thicker in line and bolder in effect. There are of course still a large number of standout frames and in particular Jared’s rendering of the female form is pretty damn good but there does seem to be a slight decline in the fine detail. As a reader it seems to me that the reason for this is the creators desire to get the story moving. After 6 or so years there seems to be a hint that Jared really wants to kick things along. So in this edition we get considerable background detail on the increasing and changing role of robots in society. What this means is that, at times, the verbal does tend to dominate the visual, in previous editions it was almost the other way round. This is a fairly pedantic criticism but the ‘marrying’ of word and picture in ‘Progress’ is usually of the very highest standard so you tend to notice any subtle changes. This could well be a narrative pause before a big push, it certainly feels like it.

Overall this does not effect the impact of the story and in fact the background detail is necessary if we are to gain a full understanding of this futuristic world. All good then? Well, yes and no. No because at only 11 pages this latest instalment in ‘Progress’ is not nearly long enough and yes because the rest of the comic is a real treat.

The second half consists of the first instalment of a story that Jared has teased readers in this country with for years. A glimpse of this historical tale set in early colonial times on the West Coast of New Zealand and featuring a mysterious Maori renegade known as the Kaiapoi Kid was published a few years ago in the ‘Officer Pup’ anthology and we have been waiting since for the fully realised comic to materialise.

Once again the wait has been worth while. Here the attention to detail allows Jared to perfectly recreate a time long past. The finely drawn establishing shots capture the raw nature of a wild time in a wild land. This gritty and brooding tale is something that seems destined to evolve into an important comic. You can almost taste the rain that falls throughout this first chapter. It is a captivating opening and Jared is a sick individual if he really thinks it is fair that we have to wait a full year before we get further instalments in either of these stories, one set in the past and one in the future and here we are stuck in the middle.

In a Word: Timely.

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