Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #23: Bingo Baby

Bingo Baby is touted as an "experimental collaborative comic book" at its home site, Penny Lantern. The script was the result of a collaborative role-playing game called Fiasco, which aims to be a RPG version of a Coen Brothers movie, where you play characters with "powerful ambition and poor impulse control". The players included CCS alums like Amelia Onorato, Denis St John, Donna Almendrala, Joseph Lambert, and Bill Bedard, along with professor Jason Lutes. After recording the game and turning it into a script, the group parceled out storytelling responsibilities in a mainstream "assembly-line" style. Onorato drew the characters and some backgrounds. Bedard, Lutes and St. John drew other background details. Almendrala inked the whole thing to give it page-to-page consistency. Bedard and Lambert did the colors, while Alemendrala and Lutes lettered it. The results are interesting, if uneven.

The story concerns a handful of intersecting characters in a small town, each with their own set of obsessions and delusions. Carol Anne is sensible but obsessed with playing Bingo, the central metaphor of the book. Her (technically) ex-husband Rob is a dreamer who fancies himself an actor. His brother Jake is a petty drug dealer living with his elderly relative Nan, and he's trying to find money that she may have hidden inside her house after winning a big bet on a horse race as a young woman. There's Missy, who's trying to negotiate being a single mother after being thrown out by her parents, and Goldie, a drug-addled older man who fancies himself the father of her baby. Each of the characters has dreams that directly or indirectly interfere with the others, which seems to be a product in part of the game's mechanics. It also conveniently lays down a plot as the players/writers try to find a voice for each of the characters.

The problem with the book is that some of the characters don't escape the confines of the game. Rob is a key character, connected in many ways to several other characters, but he feels more like a twitching pile of scribbled-down character traits than an actual person. The same goes for Jake, who at least is written as a sort of darkly comedic, incompetent character in the Coen Brothers tradition. Of all the characters in the book, only Missy operates on a level that approaches logical, calculating desperation, and it's fitting that she winds up as the only real "winner" in the story. The problem with many of the other characters is that unlike in a Coen Brothers or caper movie, where ordinary people are thrust into desperate situations, Bingo Baby features characters with more outlandish personalities (or non-existent personalities) who have things happen to them. Indeed, the real "action" of this story occurs when one character accidentally burns down the house of another; the only other true actions taken are by Missy. Yet Missy isn't thrust into the spotlight quite as boisterously as the story does the crazy Goldie or scheming Jake. That makes the story's climax more interesting but results in some wheel-spinning along the way. Visually, the team does a good job of maintaining page-to-page continuity, with Almendrala in particular doing a great job at designing distinctive-looking characters. There's a frequent dearth of background details, but the Lambert/Bedard coloring team helps make up for that by constantly varying background hues. There was definitely a strong group mind behind the concept of the book; just like in the game Bingo, things had to line up somewhat at random and fortuitously for Missy to make her getaway. Hopefully, future iterations of this experiment will yield more nuanced characterizations.

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