Art and Story by Richard Rudge
Colors by Riley Jones
Abigail Quinn is a woman recently back from a long journey in space. Not much is known about her, except she has a metal brace around her neck...or is that her actual neck?! Abi is a mystery, and the earth just as much so. It's the future, but rather crappy. It hasn't changed much, except meat replacements and GPS-controlled cars. Something terrible happened, a cataclysmic event that put an already dying planet in the pits. Abi decides to travel to Arizona from Nevada to see the aftermath. Right now, it's for the sake of seeing it, but there may be more on the horizon for her and the fate of the world.
So, this is interesting. Never have I received a comic that is so short, set up as a sci-fi while looking nothing like one, kept me in the dark about the world and its characters, yet still intrigue me to keep reading. How so? Wayfarer is riddled with flaws, but it manages to have interesting elements.
The cover for issue #1 isn't much. The design would be alright, except for issues with the art. Writer/artist Richard Rudge's style is something I like to call "weird flesh." It's something you can find in many indie comics. Character anatomy is strange, not the plastic, perfectly chiseled skin of superheroes, but more like inflated rubber and jerky movements akin to a stringed puppet. For a rather offbeat comparison, Rudge makes me think of Benjamin Marra:
There aren't many similarities, except for the rubbery "weird flesh." Marra is 80s exploitation revivalism while Rudge is Mad Max if it had roadside diners. Also, the awkward, grotesqueness of Marra's facial expressions fit his aesthetic, while Rudge's are obvious flaws. To be fair, the plainness of the facial expressions are welcome, particularly for women characters with the lack of red lips which a lot of comic artists use even when makeup is not involved. Other flaws I can't excuse though, including disproportionate body size, shoddy limb length, and general stiffness. Environments are mostly uninteresting, however colorist Riley Jones uses terrific shades of orange, dark purple, and blue-green for the beginning as the sun slowly rises. Also, this truck on page 2 is fantastic.
I think the style would work better if environments are fleshed out and anatomy is more consistent. Representing a sci-fi series in a grungy manner is a unique take given so much is clean and bright. It just needs to look good.
Lettering is a similarly mixed bag. On pages 1-7, it is thin and sketchy like some of the linework Rudge applies as shading to add detail on characters and objects. It changes on page 8 to a solid, fuller comic sans though and continues for the rest of the comic. I do not know what brought on this page, but it highlights how the former was hard to read. Going with the latter is the best option.
The story starts off with no introduction to the world, how it is, the rules, the politics, its environmental/social landscape, nada. It goes straight into Abigail "Abi" Quinn sitting at a bus station in Nevada, waiting for an "off grid" truck to arrive. A narrative caption informs the reader that it is the year 2026, and that's about it. The rest of the story is Abi riding with the unnamed black truck driver. Their dialogue is where the majority of world-building comes from, exchanging exposition back and forth. To Rudge's credit, the dialogue is mostly natural, like a conversation between real people getting to know each other. The reader learns Abi was away for a long time on a space station, which is why she's only now learning of the cataclysmic event that took place. She wants to go where it happened for the sake of knowing its existence. On the flip side, the truck driver doesn't get all that personal until the subject of GPS-locked vehicles comes up. Apparently, most are now by government regulation required to have one. It might seem like a way to make travel more sufficient, but in reality is used to keep people away from places the government doesn't want seen. Turns out the cab driver's original neighborhood is one of the off-grid areas. That's why Abi needs his GPS-free truck, otherwise she wouldn't be able to go to the ground zero site.
Another piece of world info comes from a scene of Abi and the truck driver eating at a diner. The driver wants real meat, but Abi suggests the replacement due to environmental issues. This suggests planet Earth has gone from bad to shit. It's not apocalyptic. It's a more realistic, and possibly scarier, portrayal of a world slowly dying due to humanity's mistakes, a combination of war and environmental destruction. Even then people are still trying to go on with their lives and do the best they can to repair the damage. I found this an interesting introduction, one that focuses on a mundane scenario to make the reader contemplate what the larger world must be like.
The truck driver is the most fleshed out character given he shows the widest range of emotion, from friendliness toward Abi to anger and sadness knowing his neighborhood has been abandoned. I wanted more exploration into this part of his backstory given the insights to systematic racism and gentrification amplified by global conditions. What better way to ignore poverty and the abandonment of marginalized communities than making it near impossible for the public to see them? That's some serious abuse of power I hope Rudge goes into.
Abi on the other hand is flat. Her emotions are limited to being nice and polite throughout. It's great to see loving scenes with her girlfriend and treating the truck driver with respect, but she doesn't express much else. So far, Abi is only engaging in that she is the protagonist the reader must follow in order for the story to progress. Hopefully, she will grow in later issues.
In a move that is certain to turn heads, Wayfarer #1 is only 14 pages long plus the front and back cover. Each issue will be just as short, which makes for an interesting pace not unlike ye ol' 12-page storylines of comics circa 1930s-40s. An advantage to this approach is getting to the point without wasting time on unnecessary details. However, that also limits the amount of story you can tell, including character growth and world-building. Perhaps this is why the aforementioned issues of story I had with the comic exist.
Then there is the back cover which drops exposition so radically huge in comparison to the low-key issue, it feels like narrative whiplash, raising way too many questions ahead. It can be assumed that these are events that will happen later in the series, yet it causes doubt in the pacing. Issue #1 is a gradual set up. The goal was to get Abi from point A to point B. With a slow pace and limited pages, can the comic retain interests long enough for when it gets to the more outlandish scenes? It might have been better just to make issue #1 the longest in order to reach a significant turning point and have every other issue be shorter as the adventure progresses. Only time will tell if it works out.
I have mixed opinions on Wayfarer #1. As a first issue, it's not all that grabbing due to flawed art and a story that's just set-up with little character development. However, the back cover did suggest greater things to come, and I am fascinated in the world-building. I think I'll be patient and wait for the subsequent issues to come out. Who knows, perhaps this will be a comic with a rocky start that eventually takes off into greater horizons.
R. Rudge's website: http://richardrudge.com/