Keep It Rolling: Gordon McAlpin’s ‘Multiplex’

[28 February 2011]

By James Orbesen

Multiplex tells the ongoing saga of the employees of the titular Multiplex 10. The reader is treated to their slice of life, almost like a soap opera set in a movie theatre. Think of it as The Office by way of Dilbert. Cast members range from the relatable focal characters Jason and Kurt, good chums with a tendency to gush about their love (or hate) of movies, to the zany, comic relief pastiches of ditzy good girl Sunny or meathead Brian. Their misadventures form the bread and butter of Multiplex, alongside some of creator Gordon McAlpin’s humorous and incisive commentary on topical films.

The narrative begins in 2005 and is fully adorned with stock images of then-current movies. For a comic about movie theaters to succeed, I imagine rooting itself in a particular time is a given. However, while serialized, month to month, comics would probably falter by going for this creative decision, a web comic can be published at a much quicker pace. McAlpin embraces this boon of web publishing to his comic’s benefit. The shorter segments allow for quick, episodic adventures that keep the focus tight and spot on. Particular strips were able to be released to coincide with the debut of certain films. This enables Multiplex to actually benefit from being timely and topical.

Collected as a whole, several years after the strips’ published date; I feel this benefit is diminished, however. Still, making a comic about a movie theatre requires the creator to endure these potential shortcomings. What I found to be the most thought provoking aspect of this print edition of Multiplex is I watched a mind at work. When the initial strips first are published, McAlpin is very much venturing out into a whole new world. Early characters and concepts are still being tinkered around and toyed with. Appearances change. Character attributions are altered. The format itself is tweaked between one-and-done tales and larger narrative arcs.

This allows the reader to watch McAlpin grow as a creator. Collected in this tome is roughly a year and a half worth of strips, beginning with the first strip in May 2005 and ending with strip #102 in November 2006. Within that short span of time, McAlpin grows by leaps and bounds. The art style, already charming to begin with, gets sharper and more confident as time elapses. Dialogue between the characters is more refined as their creator grew into his shoes and became comfortable with his web comic. With this is mind, I’m already eager to venture through his website for back strips until a second volume is produced.

Nevertheless, I will say that collecting this web comic in print comes with a downside. Read in one sitting, certain strips don’t seem to hold up as well. There comes a change roughly halfway through when McAlpin notes in the creator commentary that he shifted towards larger story arcs, away from more daily strip-esque features.

Still, as he began transitioning, the narrative lacked necessary cohesion one would expect from a work when a longer format was being envisioned. Perhaps these can be attributed to growing pains but I feel I might have gotten more out of the overarching plot if I read the comic as it was originally published in 2005/2006 due to certain story threads tapering off or changing shape, only to be revisited later on. Having distance between each strip would have made some of these disappearing plot points or sudden shifts less noticeable.

Regardless, observing McAlpin blossom into his own at the end of this volume was a treat. It made me hungry for more. If you’ve never been turned onto web comics before or are looking to immerse yourself in a quirky, referential series that gets better with age, look no further than Multiplex.

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