It often seems like comic books these days are devouring themselves, and at an unsustainable rate. The hegemony of the Big Two, and their number one product, nostalgia, means that the vast majority of mainstream comics take their inspiration from and trace their origins back to one thing: old comics. Front covers homage older front covers, story beats evoke “iconic” stories from the glory days. For a longtime reader it’s a warm embrace, comfortable and familiar, but it’s the exact opposite of innovation.
There’s nothing familiar about Master Tape, the new series from writer Harry French and artist Amaru Ortiz Martinez, not by comic book standards. Master Tape is about music, old and new, but preferably new.
It’s about a man, Leo O’Brien, who is the last music producer on Earth. Cynical and money grabbing, Leo is only on the lookout for what he can adapt and package for the mass market, leading to an excellent makeover for a death metal band.
Accompanied by the Intern, Leo spends most of the issue running for his life, and away from his sins – that of diluting music. While on the run, he and the Intern encounter someone who could change it all, someone truly and literally original. Someone who could make Leo rich.
French does a great job here of crafting our principle characters, making Leo a perfectly greedy executive, while giving him just enough of a glimmer of optimism for music to make the reader like him, then just enough greed to make him unlikeable again. He’s a fun character with a lot of potential, while the Intern is more immediately likeable, optimistic and perhaps a little old fashioned.
The story is structured well, with little flashbacks and musical history lessons perfectly deployed to break things up a bit while contributing to the fantastic world building, but any comic book about music, something unseen, will live or die on the visuals. Martinez’s work is very dynamic, and shows a great understanding of perspective and viewpoint, making any Earth based scenes still visually interesting.
The cosmic, however, is where Martinez shines, from the first page glimpse hinting at the tune which builds to the final pages’ comic-song psychedelic guitar solo.
The visuals of the comic are bolstered by the work of Lesley Atlansky, who provides bold and distinctive colours, light and shadow used perfectly during the underground scenes, that cosmic finale ignited by her colour palette without which the comic wouldn’t be the same.
Colin Bell, the man of a thousand talents, does his usual excellent work on the lettering and production side; who’d have thought making a speech bubble blue would be so effective? Between Bell’s production and lettering work and Coll Hamilton’s cover, Master Tape has a visual all of its own.
A great comic, well written and great looking, with perhaps the biggest shock of all in modern comics that it’s an original. Go track down a copy of Master Tape and read it.