12.29.2009

Nathan and The Land of Robots by Matt Dye

Nathan and The Land of Robots (Matt Dye Comics): It’s hard for me to believe that this is another project produced by one of Ryan Claytor’s Michigan State University (MSU) students, because it looks like the output of a professional that’s been at it a while, and not a debut offering fraught with common amateur pitfalls. Dye has a keen eye for overall package design, it’s there in the way he incorporates his principal characters into the title lettering, and evident in the extra effort on the cover pages, nifty spot illustrations, and clear contact information. In a self-published world where I’m often left scratching my head wondering about price point, web presence, or just basic creator and publisher information, Matt Dye has the basics down pat and delivers a satisfyingly complete package. Moving onto the story itself, Dye shows an aptitude for world building. His character designs for the robots are original and unique, the robots seem to use a different written language, and I enjoyed the various social classes of robots which came bearing different functions and personalities. On top of 28 story pages, Dye even manages to squeeze in 8 pages of bonus material in the form of a "Robot Glossary," which is the type of feature you’d expect to find on a special edition DVD or collected edition of a comic book. In the dialogue department, it’s nice to see speech that doesn’t feel stiff and staged, but comes off realistically. It’s obvious in the unlikely team up with the wisecracking Merx, and the worry Nathan exhibits about his mom’s reaction and need to return to The Land of The Humans. Dye taps into something that is universally appealing and present in myths. It’s the quest that fuels a young hero’s maturation process, the testing of self on the journey to adulthood. When you throw in non-stop action, good humor, and well meaning beings you have a formula for success. Dye’s panel transitions are smooth and seamless; he seems to organically know exactly where to cut a shot. There were times when I didn’t feel as if I was reading a comic book any longer and had ventured into a short animated film that moved deftly and crisply, spiriting me along an imaginative and absorbing journey. There’s great use of cinematic perspective in the aerial shots above Nathan’s house, but it never ceases to be a well rendered comic or lose the foothold in sequential art. The characters come with emotive expressions, there are rich panels full of a variety of line work that don’t skimp on details, and impressive full page spreads and half page shots where Dye is diligently working the foreground and background harmoniously. I particularly enjoyed some of the skewed panel shapes when Nathan falls from the sky; they demonstrate an intuitive understanding of the sequential art link between the aesthetic and thematic. With the recent Milo & Ginny by Denny Connolly and Sergio Castro, and Matt Dye’s Nathan and The Land of Robots, I almost feel as if there is a resurgence in comics concerned with the lost childhood sense of awe and wonder. You can almost trace the lineage of these books down from Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, to things like Jordan Crane’s The Clouds Above, right up to this new batch of creators I’ve become enamored of. Matt Dye offers a fully thought out, self contained story with little ambiguity other than the one clever question raised – did Nathan literally travel to The Land of Robots, or was it simply an adventure he fabricated inside his sleepy mind? There are clues left in the toys he’s playing with in the first and last scenes, but I prefer a world without an answer to this query, where it’s nice to be left wondering and imagining the possibilities just like a child discovering a new world. I sincerely hope that Matt Dye is considering a career in comics, because with future projects as strong as this, he’s ready for prime time, ready to start tabling at places like APE, SPX, STAPLE!, SPACE, or any of the venues receptive to this caliber of work. Nathan and The Land of Robots is highly recommended and I urge you to get yourself over to www.mattdyecomics.blogspot.com to see about getting yourself a copy. It’s something you really need to do if you want to get in on the ground floor with one of the next generation’s rising stars in the mini-comics and small press world. Grade A.

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