I accessed the future for today's comic!

Wasted #1 (Nov. 07)

This is a new, Scotland-based comics magazine, published by Bad Press Ltd. and edited by 2000 AD and Detective Comics veteran Alan Grant. It's essentially a follow-up project to Northern Lightz, a prior Scottish comics anthology that Grant contributed heavily to, and ultimately came to co-own with Jamie Grant, he of the digital inks and colors on All Star Superman. The latter Grant's Hope Street Studios is also involved with the production.

North American readers shouldn't count on finding this at their local shop; it has been implied that Diamond has already rejected the magazine for distribution, owing to certain content issues that several of you may have already deduced.

Ah, but we live in a 21st century of robot hover boots and steam teleportation, so everyone can simply download all 52 full-color pages for just under $4.00. You'll have to go through a Google Checkout process; the comic is accessed via a Flash interface, allowing for some easy scrolling (don't bother with the zoomed-out option), assorted advertisement & table of contents hyperlinks, and a mostly clear reading experience, although the fine print gets a little garbled.

So, what kind of interest might a drug-themed anthology have for, say, a reader that hasn't smoked anything since he was 20 years old? That answer's a little tricky, since this isn't entirely a drug comic. Actually, there's a disclaimer up front noting that nobody involved with the magazine promotes the use of drugs, and none of the project's strips (ranging from a quarter of a page to seven pages long) take a particularly 'hooray drugs' stance.

And that's only in reference to the especially drug-related pieces; as can be gleaned from this preview, a good portion of Wasted is devoted to drug 'culture,' which seems to include everything from motorcycles to 'enlightenment' to fashion to pretty girls with large breasts. Plenty of those; even a strip devoted to a female stoner eventually boils down to her bosoms, which speaks more of the boys' club atmosphere of vintage underground comics than the high times that inspired projects like this.

Among the artists are several Northern Lightz contributers and new(ish) UK talents recruited through internet open calls. I believe everyone retain ownership of their creations. Editor Grant writes a good deal of stuff, with some small appearances by name creators like John Wagner & Simon Bisley (yes, Shit the Dog), Gary Erskine (as an inker) and Frank Quitely (on the cover). The stories are heavy on would-be bad taste and basic sex jokes; the level of visual skill on display varies as widely as you'd expect, with some accomplished cartooning sitting next to work evocative of deeply average webcomics.

Ambition is low in terms of storytelling. Among the more sophisticated material is Grant's and penciller Gibson Quarter's War on Drugs, in which top US drug enforcement agent Johnny Kunt, complete with stars-and-stripes sunglasses, creates mayhem amidst the narcotics trade. I laughed twice: once at a 'the US tortures people' gag involving the assassination of JFK, and again at a one-page sequence of a man climbing into a giant smoke-filled bubble ("the inflatable chillout chamber") and prancing down a hill, only to be shot down by an Apache helicopter. That was a rather high average for the project, although Grant's and Jon Haward's Tales of the Buddha also has a certain cornball charm.

The rest, unfortunately, is boring enough that I began to fixate on the various ads for UK head shops and seed distributors. It was nice seeing an ad for Alchemy, which struck out its place in comics history by publishing the early, US underground-influenced works of Bryan Talbot, himself a former head shop proprietor. Head shops were a vital distribution outlet for the US undergrounds too, and their decline left independent comics floating until the rise of the Direct Market facilitated the distribution of 'bridge' works. Today, when the Direct Market fails, there's the internet.

Anyway, I probably shouldn't be reflecting on these things to distract myself from reading a comic, so I can't recommend this one. The few bright points are greatly dimmed by things like a seven-page sequence of pretty girls shooting zombies and demons, then taking a shower to clean themselves off. Is that drug culture? If so, it is therefore clear, through logic and possibly science, that a large number of today's Direct Market comic book readers are on drugs, possibly at this moment. Now if you'll excuse me, I have today's 80th ounce of coffee waiting for me; gotta stay ahead of the headaches!