I’ll give Chicago cartoonist Winston Gambro credit : he seems to really believe in his newest project, Overflow. After first serializing all 118 pages of it online, he self-published it as a trade paperback, and appears determined to get it in the hands of critics — even critics like myself, for whom dystopian genre sci-fi such as this is, let’s just say, well outside the usual wheelhouse and/or comfort zone. Mind you, it’s not that I actively dislike comics of this nature that are both rooted in, and attempting their level best to emulate, mainstream “indie” sensibilities — it’s more the case that I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to determine whether or not this is a good representative example of what it’s hoping to both be and achieve.
That being said, I certainly used to read a fair amount of Vertigo/Image/Dark Horse etc. stuff, and still peruse their wares on occasion (okay, not Vertigo’s, since they no longer exist), so it’s not like I’m a complete fish out of water here — and it’s defintely not Gambro’s fault in any way, shape, or form that the story he’s telling is the kind of thing that might have piqued my interest, say, 10-15 years ago (if not more), but is far less likely to capture my attention in the here and now. The question then becomes not so much “did I like this book?,” as it is “do I think the people that like this sort of thing would like this book?” Please tell me you’re following my logic here.
Fortunately, he’s got enough skill as a writer to take himself a bit further still. The plot here is a fairly straightforward affair when you strip away the superfluous : cop-turned-PI Ava Lee sets out to prove her soldier brother’s innocence after his supposed firing at Russian troops heats the Cold War right back up again, subsequently stumbles into a web of intrigue courtesy of a group of super-hackers out to manipulate world events to their own ends, and along the way comes to question not only the hows and whys of what this insidious cabal is doing, but whether or not she should even bother blowing the whistle on them at all. The world, ya see, is a pretty fucked up place, and letting the whole shithouse go up in flames isn’t necessarily the worst idea depending on your mood.
I’m personally drawn to characters with misanthropic points of view, so that’s cool, and not only is most of Gambro’s dialogue a couple levels above serviceable when he’s not getting too expository, it’s still serviceable enough when he is. What’s missing from it all, though, is the always-difficult-to-quantify spark of inspiration that separates the remarkable from the merely competent. Gambro’s trying to do a whole lot here : to ask salient questions about our dependence on technology, the concentration of wealth and power in society, the loss of the natural world, militarized foreign policy, the toxicity of online culture, the fluidity of concepts such as identity in digital spaces, and that’s great — trouble is, they’re not ideas that are explored so much as overtly commented upon, and not necessarily with any degree of subtlety. For the record, I’m in general agreement with the points of view he’s espousing, but constructing a narrative around a laundry-list of socio-economic grievances, no matter how valid they may be, is a tricky business for anyone. There are times when Gambro gets the balance right, but other times when the story is either stopped in tracks, or even temporarily subsumed, by the points he’s trying to make with it.
Still, as I said, this is a cartoonist clearly passionate about his work, and if he can learn to focus that passion into story that’s a bit more within his grasp, eventually he very well could produce a more successful version of the kind of broad and expansive genre epic he’s so clearly yearning to create — I simply suggest, as a matter of pure practicality, that he get a real handle on his craft first and go from there. And that, unfortunately, brings me to the point where I’ve really gotta be an asshole for a minute —
Overflow is available for $20.00 from Winston Gambro’s website at https://winstongambro.gumroad.com/l/Overflow
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