Action Lab Entertainment
Story: Kevin Freeman
Art: Stan Yan
Whenever other adults question my love for the comic medium, I always make an effort to convince them that comics are as diverse as any other storytelling format, and aren’t just limited to superheroes, horror and science fiction. When that fails, I stab them in the eyes.
But seriously, with shameful admission, much of my reading takes place within those aforementioned genre confines. Which is perhaps why SubCulture, the indie series following the relationship between meek geek Jason and a sexually confident girl named Noel, not only took me by surprise but made me feel a little guilty that I hadn’t made the effort to read it earlier.
The longstanding web series finally gets the treatment it deserves, in Action Lab’s hefty 336-page volume, which contains the limited series, long-running wecomic strip and a gallery of artwork from the series’ talented fans. For the detail obsessive, there’s even an index of references.
Noel is the (now) archetypal manic pixie dream girl, and seemingly every lonely nerd’s perfect woman, but, as Jason notes after their first date, something isn’t quite right about her. This isn’t a story of broad strokes but one comprised entirely of trivial character moments, and Noel’s erratic and spiteful nature is offset by Jason’s hypercritical nature and sexual apprehensiveness.
When SubCulture is at its best, it’s charming, well-observed and glued together by an absorbing will-they-won’t-they romance. In the book’s foreword, Kevin Freeman writes that the series’ characters have been criticised as being geek stereotypes. Which, to be entirely fair, they are. But seeing as the guy who runs my local comic store is Comic Book Guy in all but beard, it ceased to bother me a few pages in.
I do find the series tagline “Admit it, you’re one of them” somewhat condescending, however, as it suggests that there’s a level of shame to be had in identifying with SubCulture’s cast. The series is far gentler and affectionate in tone than that tagline might suggest.
Freeman and Stan Yan achieve a creative harmony that makes it difficult to think of either partner continuing the series without the other, and the characters they craft are both caricatures and wholly empathetic. There’s also something to be said about a comic book which manages to incorporate practically every facet of geekdom, from comics, conventions and cosplay to gaming and roleplaying games. And, of course, dead-end jobs.
Visit the SubCulture website to find out more about the book and read the comic strip.