Saturday, 20 March 2010

Review: Cavemen in Space, Joey Weiser (AdHouse, 2010)

"Cavemen in Space"
Story and art by Joey Weiser
Price: $14.95 (US)
Full-colour; 12.7cm x 19.05cm; 248 pages.
Published by AdHouse Books
Released: May 2010
Diamond Code: MAR10-0679
ISBN: 978-0-615-34445-4

One thing that becomes obvious when reading Joey Weiser’s blog is that he is a man of many influences, all of which are awesome. Not surprisingly, this predilection for fun works its way into the title of his latest graphic novel, Cavemen in Space. As much of a sci-fi pop-culture homage as it is a straight-ahead comic-book adventure, the book dares to ask the important (yet transparent) question of “what if... there were cavemen in space?”. Needless to say, I was interested immediately, and am happy to report that the titular juxtaposition lays the framework for an enjoyable, unpretentious adventure that’s accessible to anyone, regardless of their age or scope of references. 

It's reassuring to see that linoleum is still produced in the future.

One part The Flintstones and one part Battle of the Planets (with the naming conventions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), the comic evokes warm memories of 1980s/ 1990s Saturday morning cartoons. Constructively speaking, the idea of character is at the heart of the book, and Weiser takes great care to put the personalities of his cast before all else.

Boldly going where no cro-magnons have gone before, the prehistoric cast are introduced methodically at the start of the book. This mammoth (get it?) 47-page section resembles a first issue of a comic series in purpose, neatly providing an origin story and introduction to the futuristic world the characters inhabit. The story opens with Washington (the tribe’s leader) showing an intergalactic business-creature (think Jabba the Hutt in a suit) around “The Wheel”, the 2001-inspired space-station that they call home.  It is explained that the station’s chief, Professor Albert Casimir, as part of a sociological experiment, plucked seven cave-people from the dawn of time. Educating and re-socialising the early-humans, they now live, quite willingly, with him, serving as the station’s crew and functioning largely as a family. 

Each character is introduced in a short vignette that clearly defines them, with all (or most) fitting into one identifiable archetype or another: Washington, the stoic, yet warm hearted leader; Adam and Abbie, the quarrelling, brutish siblings; Madison, the tortured artist; Martha, the excitable child (who has a crush on Washington); Dolley, the unfortunately masculine-looking fashionista; Jefferson, the super intelligent but emotionally stunted genius; with the eccentric Professor and his loyal assistant, Sophie Hawk overseeing the Presidentially-monikered crew.

George Foreman's got nothing on this. Not that I've ever tried to Foreman-grill PB&J, of course.

A lot happens over the course of the book, and its many plot threads intertwine, progressively fleshing out the characters and their relationships. Whilst the main focus is the corporate Zanntu Empire launching a hostile takeover of Earth (including The Wheel), it's much more than just an interplanetary battle royale. Sometimes resembling a traditional single-location sitcom, Cavemen in Space manages to neatly pack this all-action alien invasion beside various comedic subplots including Jefferson’s unexpressed love for Dolly, Madison’s quest to find the right medium for his art and Adam’s fear/curiosity of the mysterious object in The Wheel’s “off limits” room. It's not all action and mirth though, with several somber references made throughout to Washington’s lost love (that he unwittingly left behind in the stone-age), providing the graphic novel with a very necessary emotional counterpoint. 

Visually, the highlights of the comic are Weiser’s distinctive character designs. There's a very notable love of drawing fantastical creatures throughout his work (The Ride Home, Monster Isle, The Late Night Gang) and Cavemen in Space is no exception, adding to his already-impressive collection of weird-and-wonderfuls. My favourites were undoubtedly, Professor Casimir and the Captain of the Zannto Army: Casimir for looking like an even-goofier take on the Osamu Tezuka-style benevolent scientist; the Captain for funneling Weiser's great eye for monster design into the chassis of a devious hulking villain. Unremarkable Tree Frog nemesis Jack Hammer still takes the cake as my favourite of Weiser's villains though.


There’s something timeless about the simple and direct delivery of Cavemen in Space's narrative, at times  feeling like a classic silver-age adventure, only unafraid of its own cartoonishness. Whilst the sci-fi setting seems much more explicitly themed for older readers' appreciation than Weiser's previous full-length (the excellent The Ride Home), it is nonetheless suitable for younger readers too. Unfortunately, the "all ages" term comes with a great deal of marketing baggage and consequently is often interpreted as (as stated by the creator himself in his recent interview with us) “for children... and some adults who like that sort of thing”. I sincerely challenge anyone to find a red-blooded adult human that doesn’t like either cavemen, space or both.

If, like most of us, you really like cavemen and space, or if you fancy reading the kind of honest and uplifting comic-book story that rarely sees the light of day anymore, Cavemen in Space is for you. With printing and pre-distribution publication costs being paid for via fundraiser, we heartily recommend that any interested parties head over to Weiser's website and secure themselves a pre-order (plus a donation reward) as soon as possible (deadline April 5th, 2010). In the mean time, please check out the links below to read an 11-page preview of the graphic novel, or alternatively, this full colour mini-comic that Weiser produced shortly before proceeding onto the graphic novel itself.
In the words of the Captain himself:


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