By Ben Boruff
To travel the cosmos, you need to find a Warp Zone. And to find a Warp Zone, you need to talk to Jack Elsewhere. That is the premise of Warp Zone, an entertaining, imaginative new comic by Ted Lange IV. Warp Zone is gimmicky, but it is also self-aware, which means that the abrupt expositional panels and narrative breaks are intentional. Warp Zone takes risks, and author Ted Lange IV has fun with the story, offering Mario-style tunnels and a kleptomaniac character named Calico Jones who is “rumored to have loot stashed in various safehouses throughout the galaxy.” The comic combines the offbeat humor of Mad magazine and the large-scale narrative elements of Virgil's Aeneid.
To feel somewhat disoriented by the comic’s fast pace or its sketch-style method of storytelling is to react appropriately to Warp Zone. Instead of allowing Warp Zone's readers to experience interdimentional travel vicariously, Ted Lange IV pushes readers through bold colors and big ideas, which sparks an almost paradoxically pleasant confusion. I had to read several pages two or three times, but I did not mind—I enjoyed the experience. Reading Warp Zone feels, at times, like tumbling through the cosmos, which (in this case) is a positive characteristic of the narrative.
Rosarium Publishing describes the comic as an "Afrofuturist odyssey," which is a meaningful label. In an article published by the Guardian, journalist Steven W Thrasher notes that Afrofuturism is "very personal," and the idea that Afrofuturism is both wide-reaching and intimate is an important one to grasp before exploring the cultural aesthetic further. Thrasher expands on this concept: "In the way that film noir functions as a genre, or jazz as a musical style, Afrofuturism is a philosophy that can be simultaneously obvious and vague in its identity, bounded and porous in its edges." In other words, Afrofuturism seems, in some ways, to be a living concept, an evolving philosophy that may be able to adapt to changing sociocultural trends. Author and director Ytasha L. Womack offers a more straightforward explanation of this concept in an article published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies: "Afrofuturists seek to inspire and forge a stronger self-identity and respect for humanity by encouraging enthusiasts to reexamine their environments and reimagine the future in a cross cultural context." Though knowledge of these concepts is not a prerequisite for appreciating Warp Zone, an understanding of Afrofuturism helps contextualize the comic's narrative.
At times, Warp Zone is bizarre, but there is nothing in the comic that is notably more outrageous than anything in Homer's Odyssey. Despite the outlandish nature of the writing and the artwork, Warp Zone is oddly accessible. The characters, though simple, are relatable, and many readers will connect to the desire to step into a portal and wander through the cosmos. That said, if you are ever lucky enough to travel around the galaxy, remember to take Jack Elsewhere’s advice: “When exploring other realms…weapons, spaceships, and magical items are not necessary. All one really needs is a comfortable pair of shoes.”
Warp Zone #1
Writer/Artist: Ted Lange IV
Publisher: Rosarium Publishing