This week is a real blast from the past in my Small Press Spotlight series. I’ll be taking a look at Slave Labor Graphics’ (as part of their Amaze Ink imprint) Mister Blank, a limited series created by Christopher J. Hicks and published between 1997 and 2000. In the year 2000, I was working at Bosco’s Comics in Anchorage, Alaska. On my breaks (and sometimes while I worked) I would catch up on reading, and I would often suggest to coworkers to go up front and just grab a title that looked remotely interesting.
Mister Blank was that title, and it ended up being a lot more than just remotely interesting.
Mister Blank starts as a pretty simple story about a pretty simple guy. Sam Smith is an everyman, as Hicks visually demonstrates by his blank slate of a face and his rather generic existence. His job at N Industries is a bore, his apartment is drab, and the only joy in his life are lingering amorous thoughts about his coworker Julie Wallace and his pet dog named What.
Of course, all of this is his life until one day at the office when he boards an elevator to go home and is joined by two gigantic and ominous fellows who look like The Shadow. With his mind racing with concern about these two men and his imagination running wild with thoughts of them bombing the building, Smith gains a backbone and his adventure begins. That this adventure involves mad scientists, CEO/Viking/Pirate/Roman characters, robot henchmen, gigantic mechanoid samurai, wind gods, superpowered mimes, and global conspiracies involving gods of various sorts really indicates exactly how immense and bizarre this series really is.
Hicks as a writer has a firm grasp on the story, as he sends Smith rocketing from situation to crazy situation and never loses his feel for pacing and storytelling. Given the aforementioned plot pieces, this is a story that could easily fall into a trap of ridiculousness. But it is only unbelievable when Hicks commands it to be so, more often being drolly funny and frequently madcap escapism. This is an adventure that bridges the gaps in time and space, yet it never loses its grip on reality. That it all wraps up nice and tidy really demonstrates how exquisitely Hicks planned it out all along.
Hicks the artist uses a black and white color scheme, clean lines, and gray tones to expertly design this story. His character work is cartoony yet oddly realistic, with his primary lack of realism being based around his extremely expressive faces that never really over does it. His action pieces are filled with kinetic energy, particularly in the larger scenes like when the samurai robot attacks his town and he really gets to lay down the detail of the city within the pages. He crafts a city and an atmosphere that is retro in feel but still futuristic conceptually. His work is sharp and nearly flawless from a storytelling standpoint, and helps escalate the entertainment level when necessary and helps sell the romantic and thoughtful elements of the story as well.
This is a title that I’d say almost no one that visits here will have been familiar with before this day. Yet I can say without a doubt it was one of the most surprising stunners I’ve ever come across, as I find myself needing to re-read it every year or two because of the sheer entertainment and replay value of this title. I still have yet to hear of anything else Hicks has done since, but this is an example of just how great an unassuming little title from a small press publisher really can be.
Pick up the Exhaustive Collection from Amazon for just $29.95. It’s 350+ pages for that small price. Well worth it if you ask me.