Editorial note: This is a review of a comic written by the Seattle Review of Books co-founder Paul Constant. Holy Conflict of Interest, Batman!
Take heart, reader who cares about ethics in an age where ethics means only having a small, minority stake in the companies your policies are enriching with taxpayer dollars — Paul Constant is still the most ethical man you'll ever hope to meet. He won't even put an event where he is appearing, even as an interviewer or host, in his weekly calendar recommendations (and in the few cases he does, he offers an alternate). He also has no idea this review is running today. It's a surprise to him (surprise, Paul!)
If Dawn or myself reviewed this comic, that would be a step too far into deep conflict. I obviously love Paul and think he's a genius, but I proved that point by starting this website with him, not giving suspiciously self-serving praise to this, his debut comic. But, friends, Paul Constant is releasing his comic debut, and (as the kids say) I am here for it.
So I reached out to a few of the amazing comic book writers, artists, and aficionados that Paul has written about and buoyed and asked if they'd like to get a chance to review the sap that's been penning opinions of them in local rags for the past ten years.
The response was immediate: "hell, yes!" Paul is well respected for good reason — see above ethics that I am currently skirting, not to mention his honest, careful, and thoughtful interest in literature of all forms.
So here are their reviews presented in full as I received them (except for some minor stylistic formatting), and without anybody left on the cutting room floor. Let's see what other comic folx have to say about Paul's debut:
I had no idea what I was going to find when I was asked to check out Paul’s comic book writing debut. Paul had told me many moons ago ago that shhh — this was on the horizon. My reaction was: “Cooool!" and I believe I clapped my hands. Paul’s writing is always so sharp, wry, insightful, and generous, and he really, really knows comics. But what would his own creation be like?
Here is my more-or-less live commentary, as I read Issue 1, Planet of the Nerds.
My conclusion: fun, silly, and pretty. I’m hoping the future version of the beleaguered nerd is a respected archivist, or similar. My radar as ever is like, “Where are the female characters?” I wish we had an interesting girl character to follow into the future, or someone gender-bendy or other-bendy. Maybe we will? Nevertheless: thumbs up! When is the next issue?
To the many people who know the erudite Paul Constant as a reviewer of fine literature, or perhaps as a hard-hitting political reporter, it might come as a surprise that he is suddenly writing lowly comic books. But I first knew Paul as a writer of comic books, and a very good one, in the heady world of early aughts Seattle, where Internet start-up launch parties rubbed elbows with punk rock zine fairs. Paul gave a live reading (of his brief comix homage to Godzilla) that was so spirited, and so out of character for the bookish young man, that it remains one of the most memorable live readings I've ever witnessed.
Paul somehow got side-tracked away from the world of comics and into the more profitable world of book reviewing. We all have to make a living, and Paul is no different. But how wonderful that, after what feels like nearly two decades, he is once again casting financial concerns aside and is writing comic books. Planet of the Nerds, from what I'm seeing in the first issue, is off to a promising start, with nods to "Back to the Future," and "Planet of the Apes," not to mention early sci-fi pioneers like Buck Rogers and Rip Van Winkle. I can't wait to see where Constant takes this next!
PotN lives up to its Venn-diagram of a title. It’s a book that rejoices in genre tropes while also hoping to subvert them, to give them heart and nuance. It’s a timely satire that asks us to reevaluate or cultural myths about high school and beyond…
Or maybe it’s just a book about beating the crap out of a horde of nerds. That works too.
In Planet of the Nerds, Paul Constant convincingly delivers a tantalizing twist on the tried-and-true "jocks vs. nerds" premise: What would happen if three jocks found themselves transported from their 1988 Pasadena high school to the present day, where nerds rule the world?
Constant's own nerdiness is on full display here. It's written like a lifelong nerd and loyal comic book fan is finally getting a chance to write his own comic and doesn't want to miss the opportunity to lay it all on the line: Crocodile Dundee II references! Mysterious vans! Chipotle! A guy named Chad! The tiny details, both in art and dialogue, are what make Planet of the Nerds sing. While the plot unfolds at a clip, you're given just enough details to feel like you know the characters and want to invest in their adventures, whether they're jocks with rage issues or nerds with massive secrets.
With snappy dialogue, plenty of pop culture references, and no shortage of mystery, Planet of the Nerds is a promising start to what I hope is a whole lot more from Paul Constant's foray into comics.
It's a sharp looking book with a good combination of cartoonishness and reality that works well with an 80's homage. Nice touch changing the coloring style when they wake up in a different time. The art definitely kept me engaged and entertained.
It's quick paced and has all the beats of a Karate Kid or Back to the Future movie. After this first issue I have a feeling it's going to be a pretty wild trip for these characters.
Thanks to everybody who took part in this fun experiment. Happy day-before-pub-day, Paul. I guess people honestly like what you're doing!
Ellen Forney is the author and illustrator of many fine books, most recently Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life.
David Lasky is a cartoonist and co-author of Eisner-Award-winning graphic novel Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song.
Laura Knetzger is the author and illustrator of the wonderful Bug Boys series.
Marc J Palm is an artist for MAD Magazine, and author of many zines and comics.
Tatiana Gill is a cartoonist and illustrator. Her most recent book is Color Me Thicc: A Fat-Positive Coloring Book.