I entered college as a very lonely individual. I had no friends to speak of, no real ability to make any new ones, and lack of ability to make myself socialize that fulfilled a number of uncomfortable comic nerd cliches. And then I started my college job in the Theater Scene Shop which in the span of about a week became my second home. I had a knack for carpentry and a history with power tools/factory work (that negates at least a few of those cliches I hope), so no one questioned my being around more than any other employee despite not having the slightest bit of interest in the theater (I wouldn't see a show until midway through my sophomore year). I found the atmosphere, replete with sawdust, two-by-fours, aircraft cables, and catwalks magical, and I found my fellow workers to be a friendly, accepting bunch who became my closest (i.e. only) friends in college. All this is not simply to bore you with my dully middle-class life, but to say, I understand and applaud the idea of making a comic about the wonder and joy of set-building and I really think there's a great story to be told in that setting, but The Backstagers is not it.
James Tynion and Rian Sygh's new ongoing reads as a somewhat calculated mish-mash of popular styles and tropes clumsily stitched together and lazily underwritten. The book falls into the well trod category of stories about young people finding a magical artifact or location and having adventures. The art is the increasingly common rounded, vaguely manga-influenced that can be seen in BOOM!'s Power Up and Steven Universe books. The humor is the cutesy, self-aware where characters bounce off of each other like ADHD monkeys having consumed a packet of pixie sticks. And the characters are the basic stereotypes of every young adult story: shy every-man protagonist, overconfident charismatic leader, cute random younger child, eccentric smart kid, and a smattering of high school jerks. In so many words, The Backstagers is lifelessly derivative, offering nothing offensive and precisely nothing new in its mild adventure story.
A book like this needs a distinct authorial and artistic voice, neither of which Tynion and Sygh can respectively provide. Tynion's dialogue is stiff and painfully on the nose, with exposition like "I know it's a lot to move to a new city and a new school" (presumably the character is unaware he recently moved and is at a new school). And the humor falls into the realm of comments that sound vaguely like they could be jokes, but might also be lines cribbed from your average Disney TV special ("Am I dreaming?", "Just roll with it man, that's what we do"). And Rian Sygh's art is frankly, just not particularly engaging. Instead of being simplified and stylized, the characters look generic and unfinished with faces sketched with the same triangle shaped noses and one line smiles that grace the doodles of every bored-in-school student in the world. There are some nice moments where Sygh has gotten a good sense of scale and movement into his work, but it still feels a bit underdeveloped.
I feel a little guilty railing so hard against what is a fundamentally inoffensive book (seriously, something offensive would have been a nice change of pace), but there are simply too many better books of the same sort on the market. Kazuo Kibuishi's Amulet has a similarly standard generic fantasy story but pairs it with world-class art. John Allison's Giant Days has a slice of life humorous take on an educational setting but with a sparkling wit and sharp sense of character. Even a book like Power Up which has some of the same problems with derivative humor, is more charismatic and charming. The Backstagers is, by comparison to all of these books, immediately forgettable.
[su_box title="Score: 2/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
The Backstagers #1
Writers: James Tynion IV
Artist: Rian Sygh
Colorist: Walter Baiamont
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital