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Reviewing Jon Sable, Freelance: Ashes of Eden

You might know Comic Mix as a blog about comic books, science fiction and related pop culture.  What’s less known about Comic Mix, hidden back on the webpage’s third tab, is that it’s essentially First Comics 2.0.  Mike Gold, who was an editor of First, and after the collapse of First, took creators like Mike Grell, Tim Truman and John Ostrander with him to DC where they worked on things like Green Arrow, Hawkworld, and Suicide Squad.

With three former First properties and few strips that weren’t with that publisher, Gold has effectively re-created his old 80’s gig.

Which brings us to the first online arc, for the Jon Sable, Freelance  strip, “Ashes of Eden.”  A sort of freelance mercenary/security specialist/bodyguard character, this installment finds Sable retained to transport an unusual large diamond from Africa to a special showing in New York City.  Along the way he encounters various thieves and a celebutante-esque Iraqi model.

Normally more a straight-forward thriller series, this installment does provide a very mild satirical subtext involving Sable’s general contempt for faux-celebrities.  The other mildly satirical element being naming the diamond everyone is chasing “The MacGuffin.”

As with most Grell strips, this reads quickly and the body-count adds up at a fairly steady pace.  As is normal for the character, the plot is lean and direct, even while progressing through a couple twists.  I chose to wait for the story to end and read it straight through, which brings up the issues of formatting peculiar to online presentation.  There are two issues in this instance: installments and display.  And there are issues with them because this comic clearly is designed to be read in print, not on a standard-sized monitor.

Sable was serialized in 5-8 page installments, but wasn’t written in 5-8 page individual segments, so some of the section endings are a little… off, were you to be expecting more of a chapter-like structure.  Sometimes the segment is similar to a chapter, sometimes not.  Still, if you want to just sit down with installment one and just plough through, this isn’t an issue and their browser will take you directly to the next installment.

The formatting, however, is a bigger problem.   There are a lot of two-page spreads in this story.  That’s all well and good in print, but when you’re trying to read that on a computer monitor, once you’ve zoomed into to the magnification where the lettering is readable, unless you’re reading on a 25″+ monitor like a designer uses, you’re going to have to go to the two-page view and do a lot of sideways scrolling to read the comic.  Sideways scrolling is very, very annoying.  A secondary flaw is the lack of whitespace between pages in the 2-page view when it isn’t a 2-page spread, which frequently had me scrolling sideways to determine what the layout was.  Grell also has a habit of drawing panels the height of the page, which requires scrolling up and down to read.  That’s not as annoying as sideways scrolling, but its still annoying.

Now, if you’re simply putting print comics online, you’re going to have some of these scrolling issues.  On the other hand, if this comic was really created with web viewing as an important part of distribution, the layouts should more closely fit the dimensions of the display widow (the comics are part of a frames structure) on an average, or possibly small, sized monitor.

And therein lies the juvenile part of Comic Mix.  Everybody knew they were going to be putting comics on the site when they launched, but they initially emphasized their blog and played a game of “I’ve got a secret,” not wanting to admit the comics were coming.  That’s probably why you here about the site more for the blog elements.

It should be obvious to anyone reading it that Ashes of Eden is designed for print.  Hell, creator Mike Grell is even talking about the eventual print collection in interviews.

What do we get from Comic Mix?

“Except for buying ComicMix trade edi– oops, can’t talk about those yet”

Yeah, right.  Gotta be coy.  In that case, I’ll see their “oops” and raise them a “IDW does all the other Sable, Grimjack and Munden’s Bar collections, so when are you admitting they’re publishing Ashes of Eden, too?”

If you like adventure or espionage stories, click here and try it out.  It’s well-executed fun, but you’ll have a better experience if you have a monitor of Freudian proportions.  If it were formated for the web, those of use with more modest monitors would have a better experience with a graphic novel that was designed with print as a definite destination.

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