Newsarama reviews ‘The Example’

Image - Cover art of the comic 'The Example'The Example
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Colin Wilson
Published by Gestalt Publishing
Review by Jeff Marsick

I was considering making this review a single word, but didn’t figure an interjection like ‘wow’ would do it enough service.  Most people would probably not even give this book a second glance, given that it’s black and white, weighs all of eleven pages, and is produced by some company no one’s ever heard of, which is a shame.  The thing of it is, this book should be used in writing classes everywhere, and should be the primary example (no pun intended) for aspiring comic writers to reference when trying to learn how to write dramatic and compelling dialogue.

Two people are on a train platform:  the woman, Sam, has been a resident for a half hour, and Chris, a business type, has logged three-quarters of one.  Their train due in is ten, now fifteen, now twenty-five minutes late.  Small talk typical of disgruntled passengers ensues, and Sam postulates that it’s a sort of game-of-chicken that the trains play where as soon as one would-be rider leaves in disgust, the train will arrive.  It’s a boredom alleviator, railway style.  And sure enough, someone from the platform leaves.  But…

He left his briefcase behind.  Right there.  In the center of the platform, clear as day and in the great wide open.

What follows is not only arguably (and I will if pressed) some of the best dialogue written in comics, but some of the best composition of the sequential medium.  Each page is a block of nine panels, where said briefcase is the central character, sitting in Paul Lynde’s favorite spot, with the dialogue as a framing device.  In this post-9/11 era, anyone who’s done time in our country’s subterranean transport system can understand and appreciate what terror a lone briefcase can instill.  And with the turn of each page, the center square gets subtly bigger, indicative of the stakes-raising with each passing minute.

Now, you may think, “You’re telling me that eleven pages of yakking about a briefcase is great?  Really?  That’s Bendis on any given day.”  Except it’s not.  This isn’t banal back and forth for the sake of filling space, nor is the reader fed fiberless trivia about each character.  We learn what we need from what they say and are quickly drawn to turn the page as Tom Taylor expertly winds up the tension to a climax that will have you wincing as you turn to the final page.

It’s a book that tastes like Mamet, Beckett, or maybe even Frayn.  And it’s funny that I mention these Broadway masters because that’s what I thought as I read this:  “What a fantastic play this would be.”  Turns out I was on to something, since The Example is the comic adaptation of Mr. Taylor’s ten-minute play of the same name, that has won awards and been performed across the globe from Edinburgh to Sydney (I learned this on Mr Taylor’s credit page after reading it).

Gestalt is an Australian company, and if the rest of their line is as compelling as this tiny one-shot, I might become their biggest fan. The Example is fantastic storytelling in a compact form and should be in everyone’s pull file.

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