Review of the Bladezz Comic – FULL SPOILER ALERT
June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
Have I mentioned how much I’ve loved every single one of The Guild comics so far? The Bladezz comic is no exception, and once again contributes deeply to the title character’s arc, as well as The Guild storyworld at large. I’m so glad the Day didn’t stop after the three part Codex prequel, because those issues masterfully set the stage for some serious transmedia exploration of 21st century digital culture. By seamlessly combining the webseries aesthetic with an underground/alternative approach to the “slice of life” story of Cyd Sherman, as well as adding in a new layer of narrative action with the fleshed out in-game action, Day made clear that her webseries was no merely digital phenomenon.
In the Vork comic, and with the collaboration of the actor Jeff Lewis, Day explored a new aesthetic: where the out-of-game scenes from the Codex prequel seemed to stem from a tradition of women’s graphic autobiography, particularly by authors like Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Ariel Schrag, Vork’s story had more in common with these authors’ male counterparts, particularly people like Harvey Pekar, but also members of the younger generation, like Daniel Clowes. Thus, Vork’s story was more about money and health care than quarterlife crisis and impulsive dating decisions, cementing The Guild‘s successful exploration of the kinds of inter-generational friendships enabled by digital culture.
The Tink comic marked a return to the themes of youth, but added in the heretofore missing dimension of racial identification, and the way in which it contributes to the appeal of digital self-fashioning to the 21st century college student. The Tink comic was the most transparently collaborative effort so far, as seven different artists worked with Day’s script to create what one letter-writer described as a “scrapbook” aesthetic to evoke Tink’s POV on The Game, influenced by everything from war games, to fairy tales, to manga.
The story of Bladezz, the youngest member of The Guild, still a high school student, brings yet another inspiration from the history of graphic narrative, the one which perhaps most closely resembles what outsiders to comics fandom imagine when they think of a comic book: a story directed at young boys about a powerful young man, with a faithful sidekick or two, who always wins the day by virtue of his “badassitude.” The letters are big, the colors are bold, and the good guys and bad guys are clearly distinguished from one another. But that’s just the first page.
After that, we return to what’s emerging as the style for The Guild comics from every POV: some in-game action, a look at the Room of One’s Own created for those all-night gaming binges, some fleshing out of characters we’d previously only heard about in a few lines of dialogue (in this case, Bladezz and Dena’s mother), and then a kind of signature. For Codex, it was the character creation scenes and exploratory phase in The Game. For Vork, it was the stories his grandfather told him about his past, particularly his time in Europe as a young man. For Tink, it was the stories she told about herself in order to satisfy her guild mates’ curiosity about her RL identity. For Bladezz, it’s scenes from his own character creation, but, rather than the creation of Bladezz out of real name Simon, it is the creation of an RL avatar, the model Finn Smulders.
I absolutely love the depth this signature gives to Bladezz’s story. We see that the deadpan snarker/pervy hormone bomb we met in the first few seasons has in fact always been much more like the insecure adolescent brought out so easily by the Axis of Anarchy in the middle of season three. While his younger sister Dena predictably finds her pleasure in intellectual pursuits (her major interests seem to be world military history and classic literature — I see a friendship with Tink in the works), Bladezz finds his talent in modeling, and then, when that goes better than expected, acting. In learning to act, he takes control of his confusion about his changing family situation, and also confirms for himself what everyone else in the guild is finding, too, that there is great power to be had in secret identities, if one can find one to perform consistently. Cyd found Codex the healer, who was able to help people without feeling taken advantage of. Hermann found Vork, who was able to find a social group who would follow his rules in the interests of maximizing their gaming enjoyment. (Of course, his own rules collapsed on him at the end of season 4, but what are you going to do?) Tink, real name still unknown (except for by Zaboo), found an avatar who could contain the many possible origin stories that explain her investment in the game. And Simon found Bladezz, a story we don’t get here, as well as Finn Smulders, a lovely story of the exploitation of youthful talent turned in on itself. While Dena is right to point out that Bladezz “work” in the game is the opposite of work, because he is paying to play it, she is proven to have underestimated him when he figures out how to use his modeling talents against the man who’s trying to exploit them.
This is really what the webcam aesthetic of The Guild is all about, I think. Digital self-fashioning is all the rage across subcultures, from Chatroulette to YouTube celebrities to old media-new media hybrid writers like Felicia Day and of course Joss Whedon. But creative control, control over one’s own narrative and its profits, are important to reign in. And I think that Day is just the person to tell this story — fan friendly, but also interested in making sure that people who are doing good work are able to get recognized for and make a living off that work, to the extent that this is possible, which is not always 100%. As we know, the Finn Smulders pics end up getting Bladezz into some very awkward situations at school after the Axis leaks them, and Bladezz’s mom obviously doesn’t stop dating just because Bladezz successfully drives one particularly skeevy suitor away. That said, I love the way that this story gives credit where credit is due, to the ingenuity of game players of all kinds.