Independent comics have many qualities that set them apart from the books published by the major comic companies, the main being the type of stories they publish. Independent comics, often published by the creators themselves, allow for plots and concepts to be produced that would be too daring and too unique to be published by the majors. Independent comics are known for their originality and variety and provide many authors with the opportunity to express themselves freely and with unabashed creativity.
Pastrami for the Dead, a Little Twilight Music, as Above, So Below
This does not mean that not all of these unique concepts are good concepts. Some of the ideas featured in independent comics are one note in nature, good for an issue, maybe two, before the concept becomes tired and stale. These ideas might be unique and daring but don’t have a long shelf life. A high concept which makes a big flash but burns out quickly.
The idea behind Styx Taxi is one of these high concepts. It is unique and original, unlike any other type of story found in any medium. But the premise behind Styx Taxi is one that might never get stale and contains the possibility of almost limitless story ideas that might spring from it.
Styx Taxi is about a cab company that caters to the dead. See, there’s a secret that we don’t know about the afterlife. There’s a window of two hours starting immediately after we die before we have to head to our final reward. Styx Taxi offers a ride to the recently deceased, giving them the chance in those two hours to wrap up the loose ends of their lives. You can say a final goodbye to a loved one, visit a favorite place one last time, or take back a nasty word you said in anger. There are rules you must follow. You can make only one stop, your task must be finished within two hours, and whatever you do, don’t take another persons life during those two hours. If you do, your soul becomes the property of Styx Taxi for eternity. You work behind the wheel collecting souls forever. The only other choice is that your soul will no longer exist.
Pastrami for the Dead reads like a two-hour pilot for a new TV drama, and this is meant as a compliment. Steven Goldman, the main creative force behind the series, does an excellent job providing what you need to know in an interesting fashion. The issue focuses on a contest between the cabbies. The cabbie who picks up the most fares wins 12 hours of freedom among the living. The one who picks up least will go “back to the flow”. Goldman balances character development with the main plot of the issue, all the while providing vignettes of the recently deceased which run the gamut from heartbreaking to inspiring. There are points when the story gets a bit confusing and could use a little more clarity in the writing, but overall Goldman tells a story which elicits strong feelings from the reader, something not a lot of mainstream writers seem able to do.
The art for the issue by Jeremy Arambulo is simplistic yet effective. The story telling is strong and the characters are well defined. Arambulo’s work isn’t as moody or dark as the artwork in the rest of the issues but its clarity benefits the story more.
A Little Twilight Music changes the format of Styx Taxi. Instead of one unifying plot, the title becomes an anthology, focusing on character studies of the recently deceased. These stories were the strongest from the previous issue so the new format fits the concept well. The art in the issue is more experimental. It is muddled at times, but still manages to capture the mood of the piece well.
As Above, So Below continues the anthology format, offering two new stories set in the Styx Taxi universe. But it also acts as a flip book, with the back section giving us a sneak peek into a novel-in-progress being written by Steven Goldman. The crux of the novel is that the homeless in NYC have created a society with rules and a hierarchy all its own. The currency they use is stories instead of money. It is an interesting concept, but definitely a work in progress. However, the Styx Taxi stories in the issue show great improvement from the last issue. Each story, one eight pages, one eleven, provide an excellent character study. You’ll feel a strong attachment to the characters introduced by the end of the stories, a feat other authors couldn’t accomplish in twice as many pages.
The artwork is still dark and murky, but not so much as to take away from the writing. Both stories are drawn by Rami Efal in two very contrasting styles. His softer style on “Rosa” comes across better than the harsher style he uses on “Dinner Date #9” which, while more stylized, doesn’t add to the overall storytelling.
The Styx Taxi books started off with a smart concept with improved storytelling with each issue. This is a concept that could definitely support a monthly, ongoing series. The concept shows limitless potential and could lend itself to a long, successful life on the comic store shelves.