Monday, July 4, 2011

RASL Volume 1: The Drift

Cover by Jeff Smith
RASL Volume 1: The Drift (2008)
Jeff Smith

A lot of people have been giving me recommendations and suggestions (which is awesome and please continue to do so! I’m still in the process of looking for a copy of Superman: Red Son but I promise to look for each suggestion I have been given) and even actual comic books to read. A co-worker of mine recently lent me his copy of RASL Volume 1: The Drift, written by the famous and well-respected Jeff Smith, author of the series Bone which is also on my ever growing to read list.

Anyway, RASL has been my third diversion from the superhero genre since I began casually reading graphic novels in 2003 with Blankets by Craig Thompson. I honestly can’t believe I read that that long ago. I’ve also read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi but so has everybody so I won’t go into great detail about that text. I will say though that due to my experience with these three works, I tend to just assume that all non-superhero comics are in black and white. I just anticipate that a non-superhero work will have very stark artwork and crisp lines, as if to appear almost post-modern. It’s kind of like how I assume all independent movies will feature an ultra hipster soundtrack. They go hand-in-hand.

Presumptive thoughts on the artwork aside, I really enjoyed RASL and since this volume only features issues #1-3, it ended on a major cliffhanger and of course, I am dying to know what happens next.

What started out as a story about an art thief quickly turned into a noir-ish sci-fi work about parallel universes, multiple identities, the tangibility of time and space, Native American folklore, evil government agents in black coats and of course, Nikola Tesla, the scientific darling of maladjusted nerds everywhere.

As RASL narrates his experiences in what he calls “the drift,” the reader quickly understands that this is a comic where nothing is straightforward or linear. Flashbacks occur without warning and often without you realizing it is a flashback; parallel worlds are incredibly similar to the “real” one and you must look for small clues to determine if you are in a parallel world or not. For example, RASL sees the album Blonde on Blonde by Robert Zimmerman in a jukebox and panics: “Uh, oh. That’s not right… Dylan isn’t Dylan. Damn. I’m in the wrong place.” Then boom! evil government agent out of nowhere!

RASL Volume 1: The Drift, though it contained three issues and discussed complex scientific theories that I’m pretty sure would make Tesla raise an eyebrow, was a very quick and easy read. Smith often relied on his art to tell the story, with complete pages going by with no dialogue or inner monologue by RASL. I found that refreshing, especially after reading a bunch of comics where the only scenes with no dialogue are fight scenes. I did find Smith’s art somewhat jarring though; not so much the black and white, which I frankly love, but his use of proportions. His humans are rather stumpy and almost monkeyish, but I suppose that makes his art distinct. I have only ever seen the covers to his Bone series and they were also pretty cartoony but instantly recognizable. His art was not weak, it just took me a while to get used to it.

I definitely recommend RASL as it was incredibly original and really smart. It did not talk down to the reader or make the reader assume Smith was making up the science behind his narrative as he went along. I completely believed in this world where it is possible to drift into different universes and steal parallel works of art and I hope to read the rest very soon.


  1. Nice article, Kerry! I'll have to check out that comic book. Bone is one of my favorites.

  2. @Thomas Bone has always intrigued me but it seems so vast and in-depth. I shall have to set time aside for it especially.

  3. I had the same impression on the human proportions, though things do improve in chapter two, well except for Rasl (can't quite fix something like that mid stream). Monkey-like, that's how I would describe it too, made his acrobatics feel a tad awkward and wait until you see him in more esteemed attire, like a suit for instance. Good to hear this was a winner all the same.