Here’s another interesting addition to the current Irish comics market – Lone Star State, a transmedia company based in Donegal, have won a few business awards in Letterkenny in relation to their current product here. The company have released a comic series, Lone Star Soul, which is available in both print and app formats and has writing and art by Peter Campbell. The company offers collectible tokens to unlock more Lone Star Soul content via smartphone and iPad app markets, and there are also extra notes and sketchbooks available that expand upon its universe.

Source: PDF copy
Source: PDF copy

The plot has an interesting premise (alas, the backstory is explained in a block of text at the start, rather than illustrated and fleshed out): Leroy Soulo, a washed up movie star who was active during the 60’s and 70’s, takes up work on a blaxploitation-slash-western and sci fi television show called Lone Star Soul, but its staff are so apathetic about the show that they don’t notice Leroy has suddenly gone missing from the set. Turns out Leroy is walking around on a distant but lifeless alien planet called Soulion within the Sun Ra star system, and has no memory of his former life. On instruction from the only other living thing on the planet, an alien called Thelonious Q-Mo-So who is trying to take revenge for the slaughter of his people, Leroy must follow ‘The Soul’, a sort of spiritual vibe leading him a path on his journey to rescue Thelonious’ people’s souls.

While this sounds good on paper, and Lone Star State have been awarded praise for getting their work released on multiformat, there is one massive and frankly very unprofessional problem within Lone Star Soul that, with a little more hindsight and maturity, wouldn’t have  jinxed the final product. The good news is that its not in the actual comic itself.

Firstly, the art is pretty alright. There are some nice and bright 3D models of planets and alien structures in the backgrounds (if you can forgive the name of the locale called ‘The Afro Sphinx’), and by harmony of colour, they don’t clash a lot with the 2D background and character art – though at times I’m left stumped as to if Leroy is wearing a hat, just his afro, or a hat stretched over his afro. With further practise, the art will find a voice and become tightly rendered in future releases.

The rest of the comic is mostly Leroy’s inner monologue on how he must follow the Soul, how he must continue on the path of the Soul, how he must listen to the Voice of the Soul, and regardless of his amnesia, the Soul will guide him through the planet because he just knows. Every point of his journey is thought about and not shown – he muses about everything, from overall silence to a lake made of glass that he can walk across (as saviour), because they’re things on a path to the Soul.

For such a focus on 3D rendered backgrounds and unusual designs, Soul  is very text heavy and gets jarring when there’s loads of caption boxes on some key moments of eye candy. The comic is grasping for a balance between showing and telling, and there’s often poor choices in font styles – there’s a ‘western’ style font used for narration and additional material, but some of it is printed so small it’s rendered unreadable on my PDF copy and so vital information is lost. Whether this has carried over to the app and print versions, I currently do not know.

In this review PDF I received, Lone Star Soul is 44 pages long, including covers and interior pages. 22 of those pages are comic pages, 12 pages are various iterations of Lone Star Soul adverts for the book, the app, the collectible tokens and a ‘deluxe edition’. One page is a song list for key scenes during the comic, which is a nice touch. The final two pages of mention are the ones that have completely killed Lone Star Soul’s chance at being a professional product.

In a long self-analytical essay called Lay Down Your Tomatoes: There’s No House Style Here, Campbell has taken upon himself to dissect his own work in Lone Star Soul and his own influences, as well as his work style (basically, how to make a comic). While he explains that he’s not trying to ‘pontificate about (his creative) shortcomings’ to sidestep hard criticism of his work, Campbell has committed a serious faux pas about promoting his comic to willing buyers (and it’s not the assumption that every blossoming Irish comic creator or studio has a ‘house style’). 

After explaining the narrative cues he used in his work – picking airy open comic panels for airy open scenes – Campbell writes this at the start of the second paragraph, after explaining his creative choices (not edited):

Too much for today’s impatient generation? Too slow for the weaned-on-gaming, click-click crowd? Sorry – don’t care. 

If you’re offering your comic for sale as an app for smartphone and tablet users – and using up 12 pages within your book for advertising to convince them to buy it plus add-ons – it’s a terrible idea to openly insult and alienate them as an audience within an essay about yourself and your vision for your work. It gets wonderfully worse from here (edited):

(when I buy a graphic novel) I don’t just want to look at the amazing, eye-popping artwork, I want something to read aswell. So I’m going with what I know and love the best… (bright) text boxes… lengthy inner monologues… obscene and monstrous amounts of dialogue and text. (Well, by contemporary standards, anyway.)… I am a sucker for the more retro comic book storytelling tropes.

I always believed that comic panel images and art (when done well) could be capable of narrative as standalone things, and sometimes alongside text, but this interchange of text and image depends on the creator, regardless of era. I doubt that Irish comics have an old and diverse enough pedigree to even have contemporary standards, even though Lone Star Soul could be considered a much more contemporary Irish comic than others when going beyond print for storytelling, thanks to its transmedia business platform that won its publisher acclaim. And if Lone Star Soul is ever in competition against a European or international comic app market, it’ll have a lot of competition to cut its teeth on. But wait! Campbell confesses (no editing):

… I aim not to write/compose these post-game reflective notes with the motive of trying to garner a kinder, more sympathetic review (after all, it would be folly to review an incomplete book, as this is only the first of a long storyline that I have to follow, that I hope I can get to tell you). The reason and method behind this is because I also feel it is too early in my attempts at carving out a career as some kind of storyteller, to rewrite the rules or alter the staple cornerstone conventions at this stage. 

Then why send me Lone Star Soul for review at all? The worst I could have said, without the inclusion of an essay that has completely enraged and insulted me as a creator, is that we’d have to wait and see where the story goes next, whatever, 3/5. And finally, Campbell puts the cherry on the cake – presenting a professionally marketed work as amatuerish which is a thing a creator should never ever do:

… I’m not so deluded that I am unaware that what you hold in your hands reaches even close the measure of what a professional standard industry book resembles. Sure, there are a couple of dud panels, a few really, really bad amatuerish drawings spread out here and there, and my drawing style itself is completely un-dynamic and flat, but y’know, I can’t care about that now, because it’s done. 

So Lone Star Soul as a whole, according to this utter shitstorm of an essay, is a product that can’t be critiqued because it’s flawed, but it’s in print now so bollocks to that, whose creator not only has misread the Irish comic atmosphere but shows contempt and snobbery for the craft and its fellow creators, approaches reviewers with a time-wasting passive aggressive stance on his work and still manages to win awards for even bothering to market it professionally.

If Lone Star State get as angry at this review as much I did writing it, does it still have value?

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