When Tim Gibson contacted The Outhouse, right before the release of Moth City #5 and asked us to review his comic, Ol' Jude Terror asked himself the obvious question: what the hell is this guy thinking? Sure, an endorsement from The Outhouse is highy sought after because we hate pretty much everything, so when we say we like a comic, you know it's gotta be good. On the other hand, if the comic stinks... well, let's just say, there is such a thing as bad publicity.
So I passed the request along to fine folks on the Outhouse Review Team, but, most likely due to the fact that this style of digital comic (see below) translates into roughly eight billion skillion "pages" for a single issue when compiled into PDF form, nobody ended up reviewing it. Still, Tim Gibson was undeterred by our (accidental) refusal to cover his book, and he contacted us again with the release of issue #6. At this point, I had no choice to believe that either Tim Gibson is some kind of masochist who wanted us to mock him relentlessly, or his book is really that damn good.
Moth City is that damn good.
Moth City is a noir crime story, set in Civil War era China, crossed with a survival horror story, mixed with a dash of mad science, and topped off with some kung fu. While this might seem like a case of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, it actually works quite well. Gibson stews up a nice, pulpy stock and slowly tosses in these outlandish ingredients to simmer. The reader discovers these elements at the same pace as the characters do, which serves to pull you deeper and deeper into the story until, without even realizing, you've not only accepted zombie kung fu as a plausible thing, you can't wait for more of it.
I don't want to give away too much of the plot... is the sort of thing someone usually says right before giving away too much of the plot, so feel free to skip this paragraph if you want to remain spoiler free. Governor McCaw, an American who runs a weapons manufacturing business on a small island, has developed a new biological super-weapon that he wants to sell to Major Wong of the Chinese Nationalist Army so they can use it against the communists. Unbenownst to McCaw, however, the scientist he commissioned to create the weapon, Dr. Bowes, has ideas of his own, and instead of a weapon, he's created a contagion that allows the infected to cheat death, as long as they don't mind an insatiable hunger for living flesh. Also, he's sleeping with McCaw's daughter, who longs to escape Moth City and the grasp of her possessive father. Finishing off the major plotlines, Jun, a young revolutionary infected with the contagion, struggles to lead his pregnant wife and a band of survivors to safety as the infection spreads throughout the slums.
Gibson builds all of these stories up simultaneously, and though the characters' paths take them in different directions, an encroaching sense of doom promises that Moth City and its inhabitants are likely headed for a very dark fate (the only kind of fate in a noir zombie kung fu story). No one is going to escape Moth City, and all roads lead back to McCaw, a true villain who seems willing to destroy anything and anyone in order to achieve his goals. Just ask his daughter, that is, if you... well, let's not get into the details.
Gibson writes and draws Moth City, and his art fits the tone of the story perfectly. It's dark, gritty, and ugly (in a good way), as you would expect the seedy underbelly of mid-twentieth century China to be, but at the same time it's clear this is a comic book and someone drew it, as opposed to tracing freeze frames from the Avengers movie like a lot of mainstream comics sometimes feel like. I'm certainly no art expert, so I'm not going to try to impress you with descriptions of the technique. The closest comparison I can make is to say that, if Brian Hurtt were to illustrate an Indiana Jones adventure set in Madripoor, you might get something like Tim Gibson's art in Moth City.
Where the book sometimes falls short, unfortunately, is in the digital format it so proudly represents. It's not that Moth City is a bad digital comic. In fact, it's an excellent comic independent of format. The problem is that this style of digital comic - seen on other Thrillbent ventures and in Marvel's Infinite Comics and doubtless some earlier innovations that a smartass will point out in the comments of this article - requires flawless functionality to pull off. Each page of the comic tends to represent a scene, and clicking the "next" button adds or changes a panel, or adds speech bubbles and sound effects to the page, creating a sense of animation. It's very cinematic, and can give the creator greater control over the reader's experience. Unfortunately, that means the reader has less control, which can be problematic if everything isn't working as intended.
The format relies on the digital medium to work perfectly. When I click, the intended action needs to occur. Unfortunately, as I write this, the Moth City website, or perhaps my own internet connection, is running a bit slowly, so, when I click, the action occurs several seconds later. This causes the pacing to be out of whack and the reading experience to become disjointed. Needless to say, the PDF version I first tried to read this in is even less suited to this style of comic, which really requires the background to remain stationary while foreground elements change on the screen. With a PDF, or the CBZ offered as a download on Thrillbent, that illusion is shattered as each frame change becomes a page turn. This can turn a scene like the one early in issue #1, where Jun pulls a knife from his sleeve, into a scene where Jun pulls a knife from his sleeve what seems like fifteen times in a row, unless you manage to time your blinks to coincide exactly with the file reader's page turn animation. This is, obviously, less than optimal.
So if you want to get the best Moth City experience (and, trust me, you do, because when it works, it really works), make sure the viewer you're using is responding fast. If not, wait a little while and try again later. Thrillbent's website, for instance, is very snappy right now and the comic looks and reads great.
Then, even when functioning perfectly, as a friend of mine once pointed out about these types of comics, the format is always in danger of turning the reader into a rat pulling a lever to release a food pellet. Click, reward, click, reward, click, reward, click, reward. The act of reading can become automatic, overpowering the story itself. At times, you might wish you had the physical pages in your hands so your eyes and your mind, imbued with infinitely more processing power than any available gadget, could do the work the computer is struggling with.
But don't let those gripes deter you from reading what would be a great comic even if it were presented as crayon drawings on a bunch of wadded up bar napkins. In fact, I'm relatively certain that, long after this technology is perfected, when we're enjoying the Moth City 25th Anniversary Edition in 2057 (math is not my strong suit), it will be remembered as one of the early masterpieces of the digital comics medium, and Tim Gibson as a pioneer. Unless he screws it up in the final two issues. Watch your step, Tim!
In any case, everyone should have high speed internet by then, so the point will be moot. What's important is that talented creators like Tim Gibson are using this new medium to make comics that matter. Not experiments, or ancillary marketing gimmicks, or repurposed scans, but actual, honest to goodness works of literary and artistic merit, the kind you might actually want to show to somebody who doesn't normally read comics.
While I'm critical of digital comics, I do believe they're the future, and the way that comics will reach a new and larger audience. Tim Gibson obviously believes that too, and Moth City is his attempt at proving it. If you're a digital comics skeptic, Moth City has a formidable chance of making you a believer.
So, Tim Gibson, I guess your gamble in asking The Outhouse to review your comic has paid off, as all the sales you're going to get thanks to our recommendation are... wait, what? Oh yeah, that's right, not only is this a great comic, but it's a comic that you can read for free, at Thrillbent or at the Moth City website. In fact, thanks to Thrillbent's embed feature, you can read a chapter from issue #1 right at the bottom of this article. How about that?!
However, and I'm not just saying this because Tim Gibson has offered the Outhouse lucrative kickbacks for every book he sells, I really have to recommend you pay for it on comiXology, because, regardless of what device you're reading it on, or what type of sludge is clogging up the intertubes between you and Mark Waid's server, you're going to get the responsive experience this comic demands when it's both stored locally (albeit restricted by arcane DRM) on your device and presented with the proper transitions. The first issue is free on comiXology right now, and the remaining 6 (plus two more to come in the future) go for only $1.99 each. As I said earlier, I'm not exactly sure how you quantify this type of comic in terms of page count, but I can say that, on average, I felt about 3.5 times more satisfied after reading a single issue of Moth City than I do reading a typical mainstream superhero comic, so it's a great deal for the money.
Head over to comiXology (or the platform of your choice) and give Moth City a try. If you don't, I'm going to give Tim Gibson your email address, and, let me tell you, he's nothing if not persistent.