Fear Of Flying by Brian Canini is a slice-of-life comic that has a kind of rambling energy going for it but is sadly undermined by a some production value issues.
What is it about?
Well, that isn’t easily answered.
It harkens back to the days of 80’s independent comics where theme and plot took second place to the novelty of exploring mundane life in the comic book medium. That’s certainly part of this book’s charm.
These days, comics are in a hurry to rush from one plot point to another without building ambiance or establishing characters. It seems that some comic book writers are so terrified of losing the readers’ interest that they infantilize them. Rather than challenging the accepted comic book genres, they rigidly adhere to genre tropes and hurl a succession of spectacles (car crashes, breasts, zombies, super-powered battles) at the reader. It can be both overwhelming and tedious at the same time.
So Fear Of Flying proves to be a welcome break from this. It’s a comic bold enough to be about…nothing really. There’s little in the way of plot and tension. Events are explained in a rambling unconnected way. Wide-screen panel layouts are devoted to subjects as varied as the desire to be an eccentric millionaire to a visit to the dentist.
There are beautifully described moments sandwiched between random daydreams and events. One such moment describes a silent exchange between a homeless woman and a generous stranger.
The exchange ends with the narrator saying “we’re never alone.” It’s a beautiful, sincere sentiment and this page expresses it without resorting to sentimentality or cliché.
In many ways, this book reminds me of works such Blankets by Craig Thompson. Fear Of Flying is also a gentle, unpretentious tale that covers the small kindnesses and cruelties of everyday life and the huge impact they have on the landscape of inner selves.
But unlike Blankets, Fear Of Flying doesn’t appear to have a destination. Without a plot or conflict to drive it, the book never builds momentum. It reads more like a visual diary of observations and experiences and to be fair, it’s described as a collection of daily journal comics on the cover.
As a webcomic, this would be more than acceptable. In fact, reading this book as the comic book equivalent of a blog certainly enhanced my enjoyment of it. But there’s a vast difference between reading a series of seemingly arbitrary blog entries and reading a 100 page collection of them.
While I applaud the creator for breaking away from typical comic formulas and formats, I can’t help but feel that this collection (Fear Of Flying 1) would have worked better if distributed in multiple books of 25 pages rather than a single giant tome.
Another issue is the production value. The comic draws heavily on an independent art style where naturalistic figures and settings have no place. Instead, the artwork is quirky black and white, utilizing simplistic figures against sketchy backgrounds. This art style works well for this kind of comic and lends it an off-beat charm.
But the artwork here doesn’t look finished. I’m reluctant to critique it in detail because I do not feel this is the final product. The art looks more like thumbnails or a second draft of the comic.
The comic appears to be hand-lettered and unfortunately, the lettering is sometimes inconsistent in terms of text size with words occasionally being indecipherable.
This is a pity since the writing is one of the comic’s strongest points. I found myself charmed by some of the narrative and enjoyed the unpretentious approach to larger themes like love, loss and basic humanity. The occasionally unreadable text interferes with the readers’ ability to enjoy this.
Fear Of Flying 1 is a sincere work. It eschews larger-than-life stage of superhero conflict and explores experiences from the everyman’s pov.
That’s part of its appeal. It has the potential to add something important to the modern comic book market.
But as I stated, the version I reviewed reads like a rough draft rather than a final product. In order for it to work as a graphic novel or collection, the creator may need to rework parts of it.
This is a lovely collection with great possibilities and I hope to see it fulfill its potential.