After years of working in the comic book industry, Andrew Wildman stepped back from the mainstream to work on personal projects. His latest, Oxygen, is a seven issue science-fiction mystery story which he is releasing digitally through his own website.
In recent years Wildman has worked as a story-boarder for film and television and the style of this comic is visually influenced by these working experiences. The plot and character are drawn from another aspect of Wildman’s life, his life coaching. Together these two aspects create a fascinating world of layers for the reader to unpick.
The first thing that becomes apparent when you start to read Oxygen’s first issue, entitled Red, is that each page has exactly the same layout. Three stacked panels of equal size greet the reader on every page. In the introduction to the comic Wildman states he wanted to ‘play out the whole thing as though it is a series of storyboards for a movie’. This is a bold move and one that Wildman pulls off perfectly.
Each panel acts like a television screen with Wildman as the director controlling the audience’s viewpoint. Where the comic has an advantage is that the images are static, allowing the reader to decide how much time they spend taking them in. Early on this makes the pacing slow because Wildman gives the reader a lot to digest. The first few pages are reminiscent of the opening sequence from Alien with the camera slowly panning around the Nostromo.
Wildman , however, has more control over the reader than you might expect. Once the central character is awake and the world literally starts to crumble around him, Wildman picks up the pace and pushes the reader through the panels. The reader becomes as helpless in the forward motion as the astronaut does in the story. Instinctively you find yourself zipping from panel to panel as the transitions become more and more dynamic. They stack up like animation cells ready to be run through a projector.
The narrative itself for this first issue is a simple affair with the central character reacting to a dire situation. Readers of Wildman’s last comic, Horizon, will know that the writer/artist always has a plan and many elements that you see in this first issue will take on different meanings as the story progresses. You just need to check out his blog posts to know that even the title and predominant color of this issue, red, has a significance in the story somewhere.
Patreon and Production
Over the years Andrew Wildman has worked on some big titles for Marvel Comics, most famously a superb run on Transformers with Simon Furman. These exciting adventure comics required a certain level of dynamism that is evident in Wildman’s current work. Throughout Oxygen: Red Wildman is able to give the impression of movement as if the images have their own kinetic energy. The different levels of energy create the tension within the narrative, like the changing music in a movie. You understand the sense of danger and feel the spaceship breaking apart. This adds an urgency to the story that gets your heart beating.
Wildman’s sense of depth and perspective, shifting the viewpoints around like a steady-cam, produce a truly cinematic experience on the page. The build up in pace from the opening to the end is impressive and works on a subconscious level. To start with you take your time, picking details out of the panels, but before you realise it you’re at the end, lost on an alien world with the astronaut.
This is a comic you will instantly want to go back and re-read. And when you do you’ll start picking up on smaller details, questioning certain elements and art choices. Wildman has a plan for everything and nothing goes onto the page that doesn’t serve a purpose. On the opening page there are a collection of books and CDs, each chosen by the creator for a reason.This reason may serve the narrative or be autobiographical in nature but it has been specifically chosen by Wildman to represent something.
If you are the kind of person that likes to understand the choices that artists/writers make and the processes they go through, then Andrew Wildman is a perfect creator to follow. He has a regular blog where he constantly releases his thought processes and sketches, giving a great insight into how he works. His Patreon is an extension of this where he shares more works in progress and exclusive looks at upcoming pages and design. He posts regularly and it all adds something to the reading experience of Oxygen.
By itself, Oxygen is a surprisingly action paced comic despite the fact that it serves simply as an introduction to Wildman’s new world. There isn’t a lot of obvious character development but at the same time you can get to know the astronaut quite well if you take the time to pick the panels apart.
The driving force behind this comic is the design, especially the approach to layouts. By choosing the three stacked panel approach, Wildman has created a comic where he has complete control over what the reader sees and how the reader experiences the narrative.
However, one of the biggest selling points is Andrew Wildman himself. Most people who buy this comic will probably take a look at the production information that Wildman is posting and begin to lose themselves in the creative process. The creators Patreon page is a wealth of information that enhances the final product and is addictive in itself.
With 6 more planned issues, Oxygen is a triumphant of storytelling and production. At only £2 for the first downloadable issue, you’ll not find a better comic to spend your money on.
Oxygen #1 Red can be purchased through Andrew Wildman’s web site: andrewwildman.org/oxygenbook
Andrew Wildman’s Patreon Page can be found here: www.patreon.com/andrewwildman
The color artist on Oxygen is J P Bove.