By Dustin Cabeal
Full disclosure I know Justin Wood quite well. We’ve never meet in person, but we converse, and he’s the creator of our logo, the review banners, and writer of reviews on many occasions. That said, you’re probably wondering how the fuck I can objectively review NPCs if that’s the case.
I actually lived in fear of reading his comic. Because I know him, but because I know myself better than anyone else. I knew that there was no way I couldn’t be honest about his work. I’ve learned the hard way that you should be the hardest on your friends and so fear not. I will pull no punches.
Now, that sounds like I’m about to rip NPCs, but I’m not. It’s not perfect. For instance, I’m using my own video game knowledge to piece together that the title means “None Playable Characters,” but that is technically an assumption. The first issue doesn’t explicitly spell that out to you, but for the likely reason that if you don’t know was NPCs stands for you’ll be presently surprised when it’s revealed organically in the story.
As for the issue itself, we meet “the inventor” which is a young woman named Nani. She runs a family hotel, but she’s the only member of the family we see as she looks longingly at a poster of her parents. From there we see a normal day in Nani’s day as she does the work of several people with the help of her inventions. Some of which work, some of which need some more work.
The story does bounce around somewhat. It’s almost as if the three acts of the story have a few pages mixed and moved around. It’s never confusing and manages to break up the scenes in an interesting way. It’s hard to say if the issue would be stronger if it weren't like this, but it works. It holds your attention and has a steady pace.
Where the issue shines brightest is the artwork and coloring. Wood avoids the traps that a lot of writer/artists fall in to in the industry. That is to say that he lets the art do the talking, rather than overwriting the story. I’ll let you in on a secret, when you read a comic that was overwritten, it wasn’t because the writer didn’t trust the artist (though it could be part of it) it’s more than likely the fact that the writer can’t draw, but wants to. They’re pouring out everything from their head in an attempt to control the artwork because they can’t do it themselves. They just want to give the artist everything they can imagine, but a good writer steps back and lets the artist bring it to life whether it matches what was in their head or not.
Wood lets the art tell the story. He doesn’t have a ton of dialogue; there’s no narration, and yet so much of the story and emotions of the characters is conveyed through the art. Nani is an emotional character, like most people, and has her ups and downs as we see in this issue.
Wood is a talented colorist. Again, I’m not floating his boat here; I really loved the coloring on this issue. I would encourage you to pay close attention to it because he does a lot of intentionally pixelated coloring scenes. It’s subtle, but he does it in a way that I’ve yet to see in other comics. The mixture of pixel coloring and traditional color makes for great visuals. The other big compliment for the coloring is that it looks like an anime. I could eat this shit it’s so goddamn candy. That sentence only makes sense to me because that’s what I say to myself when I see good coloring, but you get the gist. It’s pretty.
I was afraid I wouldn’t like this comic. I’ve been in this situation before, reviewing a friend’s work or a writer of the site’s work and it’s a really difficult position to be in. Again, because I know myself and I know that I’m not going to pull punches and with that comes consequences. Thankfully, NPCs was great. I enjoyed the story, the characters, the artwork and of course the coloring. It’s not spot on perfect, but for Wood’s first stab at solo creator-owned work, it’s very impressive and stands up to the standard we look for on the site.
NPCs – One: The Inventor
Creator: Justin Wood
Link to purchase