By Gordon McAlpin
Ah, the joys of the crappy job, celebrated endlessly through film, television and literature. Whether it’s fast food, music, fashion, books, comics…. anywhere that there’s a minimum wage job you’ll find a story – and here, in Multiplex, we have another iteration of the idea. To cut to the chase, this is Clerks, in comic form, in a movie theatre.
Multiplex follows the standard format of pissed off young retail workers with crappy jobs, low pay, minimal perks and a series of bizarre and often out and out ridiculous encounters with those strangest of creatures; the general public.
But here we’re looking in on the lives and loves of a small band of cinema workers, cataloguing the everyday travails and frustrations of working retail. You certainly don’t need to be a movie buff to appreciate the gags here (although it certainly helps to have some basic knowledge of the references peppering the strips) because the things Multiplex details are pretty much the universal experience of anyone who’s ever had a job in any kind of service industry.
Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show is the first print collection of the Multiplex webcomic, hitting it’s 7th year in July, and it contains the first 102 strips from the archives (July 2005 – November 2006), along with dvd extra type stuff, a fair number of strips not included online and an all-new, prequel story.
It’s a simple idea, but it’s done well, and there’s a good proportion of funny strips. I’ve got to say that McAlpin’s simple vector artwork doesn’t really do it for me, not because of his work per se, just the general style leaves me a little cold. But it at least serves it’s purpose and when comparing the first with the last in this volume, there’s a huge improvement in his style. Granted, it still leaves me slightly cold, but it’s an impressed kind of cold.
The very best bit of Multiplex comes right at the start – with McAlpin’s introductory strip; a funny and very well realised/drawn 12-page introduction set around the opening night of Star Wars Episode III. It’s obvious, yet funny, stereotypical but well done. The longer narrative may still be peppered with movie gags, but it plays out very nicely. And it’s this introduction, done by McAlpin of 2010, that highlights just how rough and raw the earliest work here really is.
The earliest strips are very rough, crude affairs, McAlpin clearly is finding his feet both artistically and as a storyteller. And for the first few strips it’s all too crude, too rushed, too scattershot, as he plays merely for the next cheap, film related gag:
Multiplex gets a lot better however, when McAlpin plays down the movie gags as the book moves on, and finds far more of interest in the characters of the large cast of characters working at the Multiplex. Sure, we’re never that far away from a gag about some film or other, but there’s more space in later strips to do a little more. It’s an interesting shift and definitely bodes well for future online chapters (and presumably print volumes).
The clincher with Multiplex actually came after I’d put the book down and started writing about it. I grabbed some strips for illustration from the website and found myself reading on.
“Enjoy Your Show” is just the first five chapters – it’s up to chapter 25 online – but once I started reading chapter 6, I kept going. I didn’t read the lot, and jumped forward at times when I found it a little too flat, but I did end up reading a fair chunk of it on the screen (which, knowing how much I dislike reading on a screen, is a good sign).
The quality of the art in later chapters is really good, and although the concept and the ideas were occasionally prone to a little too much repetition (after all, how many ways can you do relationships and customer gags with a largely enclosed cast and setting?) it certainly made for an entertaining hour or so of comic reading.
This first volume of Multiplex is flawed fun, there’s some nicely done slice of life observational gags worthy of a good few smiles and laughs, and the art, whilst not really my thing, is solidly crafted and has a certain interesting, attractive style to it. In the end Multiplex is a good, solid, fun start.
The book is available from McAlpin’s website, and whilst you’re there, have a look at some of his more recent work to see the big improvement.