You would think after four issues the illustration team of Ro Stein and Ted Brandt would be tired of, or run out of ways to, capture that feeling of pained, put upon, emotions bubbling around in Vita Slatter’s core as Charlie Ellison does Charlie things. That isn’t the case as the creative team continues to mine odd couple comedy gold from the duo as things turn a bit more introspective but nevertheless wild.
Written by Christopher Sebela
Penciled by Ro Stein
Inked by Ted Brandt
Colored by Triona Farrell
Lettered by Cardinal Rae
Following their move into (much) closer quarters, Charlie and Vita get to know each other better. But the results might be more disastrous than the incompetent crowdfunded gunmen hunting them across Los Angeles. As Vita struggles with the fallout of losing her only sense of security, Charlie looks for a way to slip free of her leash, placing her directly in the crosshairs of Trotter, who’s hoping his hugest kill yet will launch him back to the top of death charts. Rebel Wilson has optioned the rights with the goal of starring in and producing the movie adaptation. Wilson will develop the project and produce it via her Camp Sugar production banner. Also producing is Oni Entertainment.
At the heart of “Crowded” is a satire of crowdfunding and gig economy, with Ro Stein’s exaggerated figure work and the vibrant colors of Triona Farrell it pushes things into a Robocop tone. The satire isn’t like the other recent comic tech satire, “No.1 with a Bullet,” which turned down the exaggeration for the implication that we are just a few bad tech steps away from, full, reality. In both cases the core of their respective exaggeration reveals something true at their center. That simple truth can lead to things that are presented or narrated as excessive not reading as over tuned. At the start of “Crowded” #4, the team introduces Trotter and he is one such character that despite surface level cartooning reads incredibly normal. If Trotter wasn’t a hitman, he would be doing whatever it is Logan Paul does. The only real difference between the two is one kills people for money and makes videos about it, the other just makes videos of dead people for money.
Representing one medium in another is a tricky balance of using one to represent the other. With the generally reactive cadence employed in “Crowded,” the rhythm of pretty much every Charlie-Vita interaction is Charlie dose something in panel A followed by Vita’s lack of amusement in panel B, the creative team do a pretty good job of aping, and to a lesser extent parodying, YouTube video style and culture with Trotter. Trotter bursts on to the second page, his panels framed as a smartphone, with each successive panel showing an exaggerated shift from the last one as he runs down the latest Charlie Ellison news like it’s Tosh.O. Sebela’s writing paired with the art team, captures in four panels the hyper edited vlog style of Ray William Johnson.
This quality mimicry is made even more successful by the turn of the page, revealing the artifice and performance that transforms boring Dave into “Trotter.” Much like YouTube/Twitch streaming, the content is slick and veils the economically hollow position these personalities operate in. One day that e-sport money is going to come through. The introduction of Trotter and his precarious position between the lavish image that character presents on stream and the paranoid, verging on economically destitute, Dave is a surprisingly deep characterization and contrast with the social media and drama preoccupied Charlie. Charlie continues to simply be the quintessential Hannibal Lecter meal; which is to say rude.
Charlie is the comedic engine to the various escapades her and Vita find themselves on, but after a while the utter lack of self-awareness begins to wear thin. That lack may be starting to change as Trotter reveals the information his team has dug up on her via a series of interviews with known associates. The page design continues the normal comedic rhythm, representing it as cross stich between interview and Charlie’s reaction. Stein and Brandt do a good job of showing a realistic emotional rollercoaster ride for Charlie, it starts out as awkward before eventually overwhelming her. It got me to feel just a little bit bad for the character.Continued below
“Crowded” #4 is an all around introspective issue as Vita has a run in with her ex, Jo, down at the police station. The action comedy the art team has presented over the previous issues has been fantastic, but it’s nice to see how they handle more subdued sequences. There is still a whiff of comedy to it as Vita swaps back and forth between awkward blushing and suave ladies woman. Vita and Jo’s sequence together works because the art team and Sebla’s script are able to efficiently convey the subtext of feelings and history between the two as they have an awkward used to be more than friends conversation about Vita’s plan to survive Charlie. Their sequence is about three pages in length but it’s spread over six pages, interspersed with another wild misadventure Charlie manages to get herself into, which creates a feeling of fullness. What we see is important highlights, but the presentation connotes the feeling of history between the two and with Charlie’s side adventure the length of their discussion.
That sequence gets to the thing the creative team dose so well in this issue, densely packing moments and pages without it impeding the comedic timing and style. Setting the opening pages aside, most of this issue is in the 8-10 panel per page range. These panels tend to be crammed together with little gutter space, colorist Triona Farrell deserves credit for keeping everything balanced within these dense pages. Writer Christopher Sebela does a good job writing pages that are serialized but still feel meaty on their own. How Ro Stein lays the pages out and Cardinal Rae letters them is why pages they are readable, as pages are often subdivided into smaller clusters that present a bit of a closed loop. Look at the page where Trotter and his manager leave their production facility. It is effectively a walk and talk where the page is divided into horizontal quarters, as they move from the upper right hand corner to the bottom left. Each horizontal segment is given it’s own beat as they go through the facility. The same structure holds true for the following page as Vita discovers her house burning down, this time in thirds. This structure also lets the art team fill panels with little visual gags in the background, which often serve as setup for them coming to the foreground in the coming panels. By nesting beats together and using the overall page as a unit to contain them, “Crowded” is able to create a good and fulfilling reading experience for a 24 page single issue.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Crowded” #4 continues to be a hilarious odd couple adventure as Vita and Charlie take a second to try and figure out how to survive, each other and all the people trying to kill them.