Friday, July 13, 2018

Koyama: Ben Sears' The Ideal Copy

The Ideal Copy is Ben Sears third "Double+ Adventure" book for Koyama Press, part of their small but formidable listing of comics aimed at kids. This is the best of the three volumes, and I think it's because Sears scaled back a bit on the futuristic wow factor of the series and instead went back to good-old-fashioned caper storytelling. At its essence, the series features treasure hunters Plus Man (a highly adventurous kid) and his mechanical friend Hank (who is sort of like a Transformer in the way he can assume different shapes and functions), and treasure hunts are capers. Mysteries with clues that need to be unlocked, preferably with a wide variety of colorful characters. As such, this book has a well-designed structure that not only quickly establishes the main characters' prior status quo with a fun side adventure, it also puts the new adventure into motion.

Hank and Plus Man were working for the city as treasure hunters, going after those who abused the environment or otherwise did morally questionable things. When asked by the city to rob someone's grave in order to recover some post-mortem tax assets, they refuse and are made persona non grata. They get jobs as caterers and do a job in a mountain lodge working for a fraternity reunion of some kind. Sears captures the sheer unctuousness of the now middle-aged frat boys and their drunken antics, which happen to be covering up something far more sinister. As Plus Man gets curious and investigates some mysterious shenanigans, he acquires a kid and a burned-out former treasure hunter as companions.

The stakes get higher and higher for everyone as Plus Man exposes a counterfeiting ring and moves to try and stop it. Sears moves along his carefully structured plot in a relaxed, almost shambling manner as Plus Man's relentless curiosity and impertinence get him in trouble as well as give him opportunities to explore plot clues. There's a warmth in Sears' work that's unusual for science fiction, as his clear-line style and the constantly shifting background color patterns are inviting, keeping the eye moving across the page. The background colors are a sort of hidden grid in and of themselves, as Sears alternates blue, green, orange, and yellow on a number of pages--especially those with talking heads. That hidden grid keeps things flowing when the action or details on a page become more spare. On other pages, Sears has a way of doodling all kinds of details that organically fill the panel and pages they're on. That structure, mixed with what feels like a casual energy on the page thanks to his cartoonish drawing style, reveals Sears as an extremely careful and deliberate cartoonist whose serious approach doesn't detract from the liveliness of his line and the small joys of his characterizations.

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