“Stroper” is a streamlined, spare and visually intriguing jaunt through space, complete with bounty hunters, an anxious robot, big creatures and a good deal of drama. Minor spoilers ahead.
Creator: Eddie Porter
Publisher: Galactic Union
“Stroper” opens with Pak Booker, our hero, reviewing his questionable past. He’s got the time, as he’s stuck in a mining prison. He’s got plans to get out, but in the meantime we’re going to revisit how he got there in the first place.
One can assume it wasn’t through good deeds alone.
Porter keeps the first issue simple and focuses in on some alien action, then slowly deepens the storytelling and world-building in subsequent issues. Each issue has the same structure, which helps with rhythm, and Porter paces the character introductions nicely to keep the focus on Booker and his claustrophobic situation. We don’t learn right away that he’s got more at stake than just his ship and Tango’s dubiously enjoyable company, but by the time we do we’re drawn in. Booker keeps us at a steady emotional distance, and the tension comes from the intricate web of criminals and debts that throttles him by inches. “Stroper” is reminiscent of many of its sci-fi peers in its subject matter, but when it comes to visuals, well. We’re in for a treat.
What really sells “Stroper” is the art. The book’s style is unique and draws deeply on Porter’s experience as a visual effects artist. Porter’s adept at adding depth to this universe – we learn that there aren’t too many signs of intelligent life, so “Stroper” largely takes place in barren landscapes. When we do encounter other beings, they’re utterly unique and exceptionally rendered, with memorable design and a touch of humor to lighten the book’s dire tone. Porter is adept at including visual details for each member of the cast that reflect their personalities, which is key in both animation and comics. Tango’s solemn cartooning is an excellent indicator of his somewhat forlorn, and often exasperated, tolerance of Booker’s bad decisions. Booker himself is tightly contained, with burning eyes, ‘80s trucker hair and a long face with minimal expressions. He’s what would happen if Jack Burton starred in El Topo.
Sound weird? Good, because “Stroper” nails solemnity and absurdity in its art. Porter pumps up the shadows and the neon in equal measure, with velvety swaths of pure color to set off Booker’s hunted existence. All the vividness of the world happens around him and the other characters, as it should in any good capitalist, dystopian sci-fi criminal underground. The creatures Porter and Wex hunt are the bright spots, and they’re quite literally bleeding the life from the universe and the page. Porter also has a superb understanding of light sources. Booker and Tango are eerily lit from their instrument panels aboard their ship, and the scene with Mr. Tong in issue #4 uses some good ol’ noir shuttering to communicate just how trapped Booker really is. All of these choices build excellent tension and mood throughout the book.
What’s less successful in “Stroper” is some of the dialogue, and it doesn’t always work because the art can do so much of the heavy lifting. A lot of the dialogue feels superfluous because the art is so on point, and it can occasionally crowd the blasted landscape Porter’s going for. In addition, there are some craft issues with lettering, such as splitting balloons and tails at the edges of panels and not threading conversations correctly. The font is a bit too small, and the balloons could benefit from more padding and larger tails. With less dialogue to contend with, or more focused dialogue to enhance the art, there’s more room to play with looseness in lettering. Porter makes excellent use of the space on the page, so opening up the balloons, crafting longer tails and experimenting with a simpler, bigger font would help with readability without sacrificing any of the dramatic storytelling.
“Stroper” is entertaining and absorbing because it’s just so dang fun to look at. Porter’s artistic flair and sense of simplicity, isolation and elegance pop right off the page, and each issue improves on the last in terms of subtlety and innovation. Where the dialogue and some of the narrative storytelling could be improved over time, comics are a visual medium first, and Porter’s already very successful in that arena.
The Verdict: 8/10 – “Stroper” pairs dazzling visuals with occasional dialogue and lettering confusion for an entertaining and compelling overall read.