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Good Read Column for December 20, 1998

Geisha

By Andi Watson
4-issue limited series
32 pages, Oni Press, $2.95

(of a possible five)

(ASSUME ALL STANDARD
SPOILER WARNINGS)



(UDATE: Boy was I late with this. A week later and #4, the last issue, comes out. Go buy it and demand your store re-order back issues. Better yet, write Oni Press and ask them when the trade paperback is coming out. We now return you to your regularly scheduled review:)

OK, this one didn't come out this week, or even last week, but if you're lucky #3 might still be in the store. I just finished re-reading the three issues so far of Geisha, and I like it even better than I did before. The one thing I'm worried about is that I looked at the indicia for the first time and saw the terrible words "(of 4)" listed after each issue number. I had assumed this was to be an ongoing series.

There seems to be a trend lately to have several mini-series instead of an ongoing series. Concrete started this, I think, but it seems to be growing more and more popular. Nevada (which I reviewed here back in March) is doing this, for instance. I sincerely hope that this is the case here, because I really, really like this comic. It's going to be frustrating enough waiting for the next miniseries. If four issues is really all there is I'll be very disappointed.

Geisha is the story of Jomi Sohodo, a "synthetic" person, an android, who was raised like an ordinary child and told that she could aspire to being her own person, not someone's property. Her father - and that's what he calls himself, and what she calls him - was convinced that she could develop such human traits as independent thought and emotions, even leaps of inspiration, if she was not treated like a machine. The experiment was so successful that she has become an artist, a painter, perhaps the most intuitive and unmechanical of human aspirations.

She's not very successful, from a commercial point of view. When we first meet her, she is broke and depressed, having spent all her savings arranging an exhibition that has flopped. The one art critic who reviewed it said her art had an "awkward rigidity." Her agent tells her to ignore him, because he's a pompous ass, but that's easier said than done.

Needing money, Jomi goes to her father, who runs an agency providing bodyguards. We're not told why a man who runs a bodyguard agency would be performing humanitarian experiments with androids, one of the few false notes in the story's believability. Everything else that is strange or might defy belief is blended into a thoroughly believable not-too-distant future world. Watson may well have determined a logical explanation for this, but if so he hasn't shared it with the readers yet.

Jomi wants her father to hire her, and expects a big argument, but instead he says fine, I'll call you with an assignment in a couple of days.

What she doesn't know is that her father orders her brothers to follow her around, not only to keep her out of trouble, but to report back to him if there is any excitement in her assignment. If so, he'll change it. He plans to have her babysit rock stars and models who don't really need bodyguards, but want them, hoping she'll be so bored she'll go back to painting.

Jomi does have some excitement her very first day on the job, when the man who's been harassing her supermodel client shows up at a fashion show. She chases him, but he gets away. She's not given another job, though.

In the meantime, her agent phones her with news of a rich man named Peck who wants to commission a painting. It turns out that Mr. Peck wants her to fake a Vermeer. Her one person show included a series of paintings that were in Vermeer's style, and that is what brought her to his attention. In addition to the extremely large amount of money he offers her, the main inducement is to make a fool of the critic who panned her earlier homages to the master as inadequate. "How do you think he'll describe your Vermeer?" asks Mr. Peck, "With a 'coarseness of design and tonality'?"

Mr. Peck turns out to be a very bad person to be involved with, however, a gangster whose minions rough up Jomi's brother for "dealing on Mr. Peck's turf" (he sold a small amount of drugs once to a friend who was desperate out of his personal stash). He also has two other henchpeople (a man and woman team named Glock and Spiel) out looking for George Brant, the ex-manager/ex-lover who was harassing the supermodel. During a meeting with Peck, Brant stole a doll worth a lot of money. By the end of the third issue, Peck has ordered Jomi's death.

A convoluted storyline when you attempt to put it down in only words and condense it to a few paragraphs, but Watson tells it deftly and easily. I'll admit to a greater appreciation of it having read all three issues at once, but I never felt lost reading them the first time, never felt I needed to go back and find the first issue so I could understand what was going on in the third, for instance. His storytelling is clear and direct, and his art is a simple style somewhat reminiscent of Michael Cherkas.

The art, in fact, is one of the best things about the book. Completely different from the pseudo-realistic cartooning one sees in most superhero books, and just as different from the scratchy, deliberately crude art often seen in alternative books, this is a fresh, clean, very simple cartoon style where no line is without meaning. Backgrounds are often nonexistent, usually sparse, only occasionally detailed - and when they are, it's for a reason. Watson is a very good storyteller, and he's been hired as a writer for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics, but in my opinion he's just as good an artist as he is a writer. It's just a different kind of art than comics fans are used to seeing.

At least U.S. comic fans. There's a hint of manga influence in his art (and in the title of his comic, which the inside cover notes translates literally as "art person"), and there are lots of Japanese comics that have similar cartoony styles while dealing with serious subject matters. Over here, this kind of style is usually limited to "Garfield" and "Caspar the Friendly Ghost."

I had heard of Watson's previous major project, Skeleton Key, but had never run across a copy for some reason. I picked up a Buffy the other day and flipped through it. Ironically (since I'm assuming they didn't want Watson's stylized art style on such a commercial book), I was so put off by the Image-like art (although admittedly they didn't give Buffy tremendous boobs) I put it back without buying it.

I will be ordering the first Skeleton Key collected volume, though. And I'll be keeping my eye out for the name "Andi Watson" from now on. I suggest you do the same.


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