writer: Clifford Meth
illustrator: Dave Gutierrez
Driving around in Los Angeles this last week, I was struck by how blurry the line between advertising and simple cityscape has become. On one storage facility, floodlights expose huge anti-alien warnings for District 9, and it's just late enough as I pass it that for an instant it seems too real. Where does the movie set end and the real city begin? And then I think it's creeping Northward and out.
So where does that end? Writer Clifford Meth suggests that we ourselves will become the advertising copy in his latest work Billboards, published by IDW. Already we wear t-shirts and hats for various companies; it may not be that big a stretch to believe that Americans will become human billboards.
However, Meth's special blend of bitterness and hope - what was that that Harlan Ellison said about scratching the surface of a cynic? - makes his dystopian tale intriguing, disturbing and vaguely uplifting. In a future where America has fallen to off-shore corporate interests, the best career path for a young man and woman is to be beautiful. (Okay, so I'm not going to survive the future.)
Though beauty may be only skin deep, it turns out that the advertising tattoos Meth's protagonists sport go further than anyone knew. Ably supported by spot illustrator Dave Gutierrez, the writer questions if true love can survive, even flourish, in a society so inundated by message that everything has become meaningless.
If only his vision were further off than twenty minutes into the future and just a step to the left. It's too easy to follow where Meth is pointing and get a little chill. He noodles around with some additional short stories that veer into worlds uncomfortably close to our own. Some of the stories, such as "Wagging the C.E.O.," have a mordant sense of humor, while one involving Meth's alter ego Hank Magitz is a painful, if fanciful, meditation on how easy it is to make bad choices where love is concerned.
The last story, "Queer," takes a pretty simple premise of reversed sexual mores, but Meth has thought out this version of the world so well that it remains engrossing. While it's thought-provoking, it's the least likely of Meth's stories, making a pretty good way to end the book - it's a story we can shake off a bit, unlike the title tale.
Kudos to IDW for becoming an outlet for writers like Meth, who love comics but prefer working with more straightforward prose. While they've also begun reprinting old works from sci fi masters, it's good to expose comics fans to work going on today. Sucker 'em in by making it look like a graphic novel - though again, Gutierrez' illustrations are beautiful, just not integrated in a comics form - and remind people that we're supposed to be reading.