The comic industry is notoriously difficult to break into. Go to any convention and it seems like just about everyone there is a fanboy with their heart set on telling the next great Batman story. Of course, very few of them ever get a chance to achieve their goals. The contributors to Exit 13, then, made a rather wise choice, collecting a number of their short pieces and publishing them as an affordable trade paperback. The finished collection is a mixed bunch, featuring oddly impressionistic and surreal works, biting satire, a dash of horror, and even some slapstick comedy.
“Citizen Christ” by S. Pliff, a pseudonym if I’ve ever heard one, is a humorous piece of satire based on the premise of Christ’s return to Earth on the eve of the apocalypse. Unfortunately for Jesus, he picked suburban New Jersey to make his triumphant return, and is greeted with a less than enthusiastic response. While not the most original of ideas (I’m know I’ve heard the idea that if Jesus returned today, he’d be ignored as a crackpot), Pliff handles the subject matter adroitly, and the story is just short enough that it doesn’t begin to feel like he (she?) is beating a dead horse. The satirical elements provide the requisite humor, with such lines as “Track housing Satan has been here,” and the squeamish look on Christ’s face as he sees a particularly gruesome and detailed crucifix hanging on door.
David Perry’s “Brotherhood of the Four Suits” features less social commentary and more slapstick humor, telling the story of Brother Ike the Equitable, a member of an otherworldly crew of monks who travels the world righting minor wrongs, such as making sure two hillbillies share their beer, or enforcing fair Pokemon trades. While the story has some enjoyable moments, much of the humor falls flat as the tale meanders to a seemingly pointless end.
Kim Arndt’s “One Shot” and Bob Suarez’s “A Modern Courtship” both delve into the darker realms of human consciousness. Suarez tells the story of a man who takes pleasure in the torture and murder of animals. Suarez does a fine job of capturing the truly disturbing nature of the main character’s psyche, although the brevity of the piece limits it to basically an illustrated character sketch. Arndt’s tale is a bit of supernatural horror as a date-raping redneck gets his comeuppance when he decides to assault the wrong woman. As a companion piece to Suarez’s story, it might be subtitled “Revenge of the Dog”.
The most opaque and unique pieces are Robert Smith’s “Sleeping with the Fishes” and Stefan Gesek’s “Arthur’s Unfortunate Departure”. Both are “silent” pieces told solely through the artwork, and culminate in a mysterious animal-related disappearance. The common theme in them both seems to be the dehumanizing effects of modern life, the former being about the humdrum life of an office worker, and the latter about the dehumanizing effects of homelessness.
Tom Eaton’s “Imagination Planet” and Scott Vincent’s “My Critics Are Everywhere” both revolve around an artist’s struggles, but while Eaton’s work is a silly and mostly fluff piece, Vincent’s is a powerful exploration of the mental anguish an artist experiences. Eaton’s story is a short, light piece of a child who finds that Imagination Planet isn’t quite the place for a young aspiring artist. While not a particularly memorable piece, the crude, childish artwork is perfectly matched to the subject matter. Vincent’s story, on the other hand, is one of the most sophisticated pieces of the entire anthology, and explores how the paranoid neurosis of a struggling artist manifests itself in all aspects of life.
Finally, Nijo Philip contributes the most unique story to the mix, both in terms of subject matter and form. Unlike the others, Philip’s piece is primarily a prose story, accompanied by a few illustrations. “Terror of the Monkeyman” tells about a mysterious series of murders in India, and, perhaps influenced by Alan Moore’s popular League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, is in the style of old pulp-horror books. In a sense, it is the most conventional of pieces, which makes it stand-out in a collection of mostly abstract indie comics.
While none of the pieces in this collection are stunning or stand-out on their own, as a whole they comprise a fairly strong body of work. As a glimpse into the future of the comics medium, Exit 13 is a promising group of talented, creative, and imaginative writers and artists, who, with a little more experience, should grow into prominent voices within the industry.