Sunday, August 07, 2005

John Oak Dalton's Volunteers

The first issue of John Oak Dalton’s Volunteers seems a bit off. The art is very simplified and the dialogue is clunky. The words almost seem to be programmed or selected by a shoddily programmed supercomputer. But then John explains the making of the issue - the dialogue in Volunteers was cut and pasted, using a pre-determined criteria for selecting text and issues, from cast off comics. Aha! That’s why it felt a bit off.

As John writes:

“I was thinking about ‘found art’-making art out of whatever flotsam and jetsam happens to be lying around. Thus, all of the dialogue in VOLUNTEERS #1 was chosen at random from old comic books I plucked out of an overflowing box, with the following caveats: the comic book must be at least 15 years old, and preferable an obscure title or one no longer in print. I wrote each one out on a post-it, and kept rearranging and re-arranging them until they made sense…”

In issues 2 through 5 of Volunteers, John drops the cut and paste angle and makes up his own stories, characters and dialogue (in issues four and five, his brother Eric shares the credits). It’s obvious immediately. The new Volunteers reads like the fun stories from decades ago, filtered through today’s sensibilities. Again, the art is simple, but it’s not without charm. What John’s work lacks in artistic depth, it makes up for in sheer whimsy.

In the first issue, a black female super hero named R.O.O.K. comes from the future to team up with The Volunteers (this incarnation is Moon Belt ThriceMan, Visor Virago, and Red-Hand Sure Shot). They meet, she struggles with a world much different from her own, they face a terrorist threat and then ROOK sees herself in the present, even though she is clearly from the future. She wonders if she should stop her “present self” and ask what’s going on, but then she starts to get all confused. The last page and a half is eighteen panels of John zooming in and out on ROOK’s face as she tries to puzzle through her unique problem. From off panel a teammate calls, “Rook?”
Then, right on cue, end of issue.

Each issue is 12 pages, so John structures it as introduction to new incarnation of the team, conflict, new team members, and then a messy resolution that leads into the next issue. Issue three is the funniest of the these issues as it introduces a character called “White Miracle.” Miracle is misquoted in the press as he tries to explain why he’s called White Miracle. A media frenzy ensues and he is forced to resign from the team.

Issue four’s incarnation of The Volunteers is Lickety-Split (super-speed), Timepiece, The Lug, Terrormancer, and The Fightin’ Mummy. Lickety-Split gets a lot of flak for his name, rightfully so, I guess and he also goes to jail for trying to steal some Pokey-Man figures from an unnamed Two Day Collectibles Show. In issue Five, The Grip, Quick-Draw, Volt Viper, and Gravitrix join Timepiece and Lickety-Split, who have just been released from jail. The gang gets a new lair, and a guy named Devil-Mask comes by with two pots of chili, one of them vegan.

John’s comics are entertaining. They’re short and a little primitive art-wise, but there’s a lot to like in these comics. I’m not sure how much he charges for an issue, as there’s no price, but you reach him at He’s also got a blog where he “weighs in on b-movies, comic books, role-playing games, and more geek culture. The ninth circle of nerd-dom, if you will.”

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