Manmachine Book 1: Praeposito (self-published)

manmachine-header.jpgA rich backstory, intricate digital illustrations, and an ambient music soundtrack are the highlights of this ambitious webcomic.

 

 

full color; free at http://www.fightevilwithevil.com/

(W / A: Martin Hekker; programmer: Mike Angstadt)

 

Martin Hekker’s moody sci-fi web comic Manmachine looked as if it were done in acrylics and pen, to my untrained eye.

Nuh-uh, explained Hekker in an e-mail. "I used a Wacom Cintiq 21ux," he wrote. "It is a lifesaver, and makes the entire thing bearable/possible."

The Cintiq is a sort of digital drawing pad that enables all variety of magic (Head to www.wacom.com/cintiq/index.php for a demo video. If, like me, you had no idea what these sorts of things are and how they work you’ll be wowed.)

Okay, before I go on, the awful truth: Hekker is an old friend from college, and though I’d been exposed to several of his impressive comics and illustrations in the past (The day I outgrew a T-shirt he designed depicting a demon right-side up, and a funeral in the rain upside-down, was a sad one), his latest labor of love is a sprawling 12-issue web comic that’s ambitious, intricately illustrated, and—get this—scored with a soundtrack you can listen to as you read online.

The first issue of Manmachine, "Book 1: Praeposito," introduces the title character, a sort of faceless cyborg making his way through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This smoking, wisecracking everyman/no-man is searching for the answer to some grave mystery we’re not clear on just yet. Our hero’s first stop: a rendezvous with an old flame named Echo.

Sample art from Manmachine by Martin Hekkar. Click for a larger image.From the beginning, when Manmachine pilots his old-fashioned Messerschmitt into a valley of ash for his meeting with Echo, to the last panel, in which he repairs to his remuda of robot saurians with video cameras for heads, the art is top-notch. Along the way, digital drawings of mysterious, mile-long "space whales," blazing sunsets in the wastes, and cute goils are executed with an eye for detail, and for the romantic doom of the end of the world. (An ancient McDonald’s sign poking through the top of an ash pile, like that shot of the remains of the Statue of Liberty from a certain sci-fi classic, tells us exactly what civilization has done to itself.)

An extensive wiki site linked from the comic helps explain the rich and complex world of our cyborg revolutionary. Manmachine used to be a human, fighting the killing machines of the all-powerful "Cartel." Now, he’s become more mineral than animal, but is still very much a marked man. His quest for survival and answers is aided by those space whales—gentle, wise, graceful behemoths called "cetaceans" that glide through the heavens, watching the savagery below.

I think it’s fair to say the story, a mix of action and Ghost in the Shell-style philosophizing, is of such a scope that future books will help illuminate the many-layered plot.

The musical experience is a cool innovation. A soundtrack of metallic humming that fades in and out, from St. Louis experimental musician "mystified," complements the comic really nicely. It’s like a film score more than anything else, and in this case, the score and the comic are bleak and desert-dry. The effect made me contemplate how, for me, reading comics to music works sometimes, but not always. I find that it helps if it’s instrumental. (I tried to do my Latin homework to Gregorian-chant CDs a few times, but that didn’t last long.) In any case, it’s a great mood-setter.  It’ll be interesting to see how Hekker "scores" future issues.

According to the wiki, those issues should feature a variety of androids, pitched battles, and grim "unemployment camps" where people are imprisoned in clear bubbles, among other delights. Hekker says he has already completed big chunks of Books 2 and 3. Those who’ve never read the full run of a web comic or who have no idea how to use a Cintiq graphics tablet, like, um, me, may just get hooked one way or the other. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Manmachine serialized in Heavy Metal magazine—not unlike the work of Enki Bilal, it offers dark violence, exotic women, careful intellectualizing, tight art, and a thoughtful extrapolation of our planetary mess. | Byron Kerman

 

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