As a comic book reader looking for alternatives to the super hero genre, I am frequently handed either noir style crime dramas or zombie books. I’m a little burnt out on the zombie genre, but with assurances that books cannot be judged by their covers, I was happily convinced to try out Frank N. Stein by Edward Dippolito. This was well worth the risk, as Dippolito has rendered one of the most original stories I have read this year. I will be stalking his website, rabidly awaiting future issues.
A man awakens in a pile of corpses, apparently half zombie, but with no knowledge of what has ravaged the world around him. He wanders first, through a derelict building, then out into a blinding light where he finds a field of zombies apparently indifferent to his presence. He keeps moving.
So despite the abundance of undead and a post-apocalyptic setting, zombies alone don’t seem to be the point of this story. Rather, “Frank”, the unnamed protagonist, is inundated with characters who understand the world around him in such a matter of fact manner that they are stingy with sharing this information. Figuring out the mystery of this world seems to be the primary goal established for the reader. Anyone who is intolerant of ambiguity or impatient with exposition may find these first few issues merely confusing instead of enticing.
The combination of a spawn point, with a ‘follow the leader to your next mission’ style plot, with ‘cut-scenes’ where blocks of information are dumped, really makes this comic read like a video game. This isn’t entirely a criticism, because these methods are precisely how first person video games grab the player. Specifically, I can’t help but compare Frank N. Stein to the original Myst video game. There is an eerie calm over every scene. The world explored by the main character feels so completely solid and real; I want to keep clicking off screen, saying “Wait! No, go over there, what’s over there?” Part of me believes that the author really does know what’s off screen. This seems like a labor of love involving maps and back stories that will never explicitly be included in the main story.
Dippolito also provides the art for this series, and here he demonstrates that you can get the job done without professional quality artwork. His work is consistent and easy to decipher (even in action sequences) and he is able to use his layouts to somewhat control the pace of the action and dialogue, or draw attention to visual clues.
It may seem silly to point out these modest achievements, but I have read books from Marvel and DC where the characters looked different from one page to the next, or where the action scenes were incomprehensible on the first read through. If you let yourself become engaged in the story, then the quality of the art work will not be an issue – and this is coming from a self described superficial comic book reader who frequently picks up titles only for the pretty pictures.
If you’re looking for an original world and want to support an independent creator, it only takes a few minutes to check out Dippolito’s Facebook page for the project.