Public Domain #5
My last four reviews of Public Domain all started with stories of tragedy and abuse of creators. It was a reflection of the series’s world, detailing how comics eat up and spit out passionate creative people. But this review gets to open differently, just as Public Domain shifts into something different. The joys of comics, the passion for collaboration, and the thrill of pure, unbridled creation come into a sharp focus with this issue. That isn’t to say that everything is puppies and sunshine, but there’s electricity to this issue that leaves the reader buzzing. I know that after I finished reading it, a desire to roll up my sleeves and get to work making something ignited in my belly.
Public Domain #5 – written, drawn, colored, lettered, and designed by Chip Zdarsky, with art assistance by Rachel Stott – marks the first steps in Syd’s return to comics, with Miles and Tanya settling into the reality they’ll be writing the upcoming new tales of The Domain. Syd takes them, plus Dave, to a shady building where one would expect a few stabbings and plenty of asbestos to share around. As the impact of Syd’s career unexpectedly pays off in the form of a year with a great studio space, the script shifts and reveals that Jerry Jasper is writing his own return to the Domain, fueled by hatred and jealousy of Syd that sparks a natural conflict as the two publishers inch to a creative arms race. The issue ends with two portraits of the creative process for comics. One is a family gathered around “The Foundation” (what Syd called his drafting table), sharing joy at the future, while the other is a bitter old man at a typewriter, alone in a company that’s come to despise him.
Zdarsky’s script hits hard and fast in this issue, as though he’s captured a sliver of raw creative energy and placed it in a jar. The story resonates so well in this issue thanks to everything that he’s spent the last four issues developing and planting, using that sense of dread and resentment to establish the lows that come with comics. The book’s cold open is a masterful distillation of the joys that are to come, while also signaling where the next bit of tension will appear. Zdarsky splits these pages into two scenes, one at Miles’s college graduation, while the other is Tanya being dropped off at her father’s home as a child.
Miles’s scene is one of celebration and joy between father and son that quickly sours, as Syd tries to force expectations on his son. Tanya’s is the inverse, in that her parents are at odds with one another, but she’s able to discover her passion and is supported by her father, leading her to her future. It’s a great narrative construction that plays on the page wonderfully, with Zdarsky’s use of colors and space in each set of panels to set the worlds apart. One panel of Miles will feature a solid color as the background while in the opposite panel with Tanya, the setting is defined, with sprawling long boxes lining the walls and floors of the apartment. It’s a distinct way to separate the lives these two people have lived but indicates that ultimately they end up on similar paths, in a singular place.
In the present, the issue sings when it gets to show these people working together, moving past their hang-ups to create. Miles is ready to concede any creative control of the book to Tanya, who’s thrilled and terrified at the idea of writing this massive part of her childhood. It’s an emotion that hits well, undoubtedly drawn from real life as Zdarsky’s bibliography of Batmans and Daredevils can attest. Tanya is an example of someone too close to the material, offering a reverence that can blind a creator, while Miles is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
He makes clear, both in the book’s opening and in his conversations with Tanya, that he sees superhero comics at their worst. He rattles off the worn critiques of “power fantasies” and “fascist shit” when discussing superheroes. It’s both a fair critique that smarter writers than myself have tackled, but also underlies the deeper spurning of the genre, which attaches to the perceived juvenile and fatalistic surface of the medium. Zdarsky doesn’t draw a hard line in the issue about what side will win out, but the issue ends with everyone, including Miles, watching in joy as Syd’s sketches of The Domain are inked by Dave.
While the essence of this issue feels like genuine joy, there are still plenty of festering emotions throughout, especially in the scenes at Singular. Dee and Jerry rule the company through fear and vile, evident as Dee walks through cubicles with the expectation that employees don’t make eye contact. The color palette is harsher and more muted in the corporate setting, and much of Zdarsky’s satire can come out in the background. There’s an excellent Funko bit where quality is indicated by “the paint quality” even though everyone knows full well it’s the same cheap avatar of corporate licensing used to sell a quick product to fans.
Event comics are skewered on passing whiteboards, and the menagerie of pop culture fixtures lining the desks of employees will leave readers pausing to absorb all the jokes. It’s a sharp indictment of the world of corporate comics and sets the difference that intention makes in the creative process. There’s no joy or comradery in the halls of Singular, only bitterness and anger at the greedy dinosaurs like Jerry. It’s a crushing sentiment that speaks to the inherent conflict between art and commerce and does an excellent job of valuing the emotion behind art without passing an absolute judgment on either method. The results will speak for themselves, as the issue moves through the creative process for the two Domain stories in development.
Public Domain #5 is an issue that cultivates the embers of joy that come from creating while building to a cliffhanger that doesn’t succeed based on tension but with pure catharsis. After four issues of watching the grim realities of what it means to devote a life to art, and comics specifically, there’s a primal release in watching the Dallas family, and Tanya (and Mohammed) be rewarded for their passions. The road ahead may be perilous, and the bitterness and harsh realities of the industry are waiting on the other end, but in the moment, that doesn’t matter. This book will be immortalized in its final panels, with the group standing around art being worked on, with pure joy on everyone’s faces. It’s the type of scene that illustrates why comics, and art, matter and how they can create the strongest of connections. It’s an emotional call to action to gather some people and start making art of your own, and let the process bring joy.
Public Domain #5: The Foundation
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10