by Casey Brazeal
Improv can feel cheap. If it’s done badly you may feel like you invested more attention in what you’re watching than the performers are. The same complaint can be made about stream of consciousness writing.
But comics are different than prose. The speed with which we can take in visual information from pictures is light years beyond the speed with which we can put together letters and make words.
There’s a reason kids who are learning to read love the funny pages. They can get through them and they don’t get bogged down sounding out “appendectomy” or some other word they haven’t had to wrestle with yet. Comics are faster than books when you’re learning to read and they are faster for adult readers than they are for kids.
Improv can also be scary and exciting. The idea of an actor moving through a story without a script can be impressive and bracing like watching a trapeze artist perform without a net.
That’s what Blast Furnace feels like. It’s Ryan Browne’s strange, meandering but propulsive story of thievery, and ostriches and flaming ties and factory security fantasies and mustaches and 70s turtles. It’s unplanned and the lack of structure allows a talented artist to do things you just don’t see in normal comics.
Blast Furnace is not a graphic novel, in fact it is very unlike novels. It is what Scott McCloud would call “sequential art” in that it has panels and one panel follows another. But it doesn’t have a novels format and there’s nowhere that it is all bound up between a front cover and a back. More importantly its not planned out. The story in Blast Furnace is happy to go deep into rabbit holes and larks. It’s an online comic, and it can do that.
There is great humor in the story both in the odd juxtaposition of unlike elements, sound effects that read “Draculate” and “Murder!” rather than “biff!” or “pow!”, odd character names and dialogue that’s just funny.
It’s not a Jane Austen novel in which every character says exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. But it doesn’t need to be. It’s looser than that and that makes it more exciting. It feels more dangerous. If Pride and Prejudice is a cup of tea than Blast Furnace is a forty of Mickey’s. It’s good, but if you found a severed finger in it you wouldn’t be surprised.
You can visit Casey at his blog, North and Clark.