Welcome to the Zone (1995) by David Chelsea
I was a huge fan of David Chelsea In Love, but somehow this book went under my radar. On the other hand, a lot of the stuff Kitchen Sink was publishing by this point seemed to go oddly missing, so…
It’s also possible that I looked at this and went “uhm, possibly not” and put it back on the shelf.
David Chelsea in Love was drawn pretty traditionally — this looks like it’s been traced from snaps and then run through a photocopier? Or… images composited in Photoshop, printed out, photocopied, and then drawn over? I have no idea — most likely just drawn traditionally, inked, and then messed up somehow?
I mean, it’s conceivable that he hand-drew all of that a la Drew Friedman, but it doesn’t look intentional — it looks random.
The imagery is striking, but it’s just a bit hard to get excited by this style, in my opinion. And I’m a great fan of punkier comics, but this seems to fall between all of the seats — the figures are a bit stiff, and then the rendering is way out there, so it just gives the impression of… well… something having gone wrong during printing.
Chelsea has always had some absurd bits going on in his comics, but he really swings for the rafters here. The idea is that there’s a portion of Manhattan called The Zone where things are very strange indeed, and we follow a number of performance artists and musicians making their way through a couple of days.
Chelsea hits many different targets — animal rights people, performance artists, cops, etc.
Oh, that’s Chelsea himself playing that harmonica thing, I guess.
I’m going to start saying that whenever I enter a room.
Towards the end, the rendering seems to change quite a bit. I.e., it gets a lot lighter, and some things become easier to read and some things get more obscure.
And, yes, there’s a whole bunch of pretty grisly violence in this book, which I didn’t expect.
It’s an odd book. Once I got over the art style, the digressive storyline is pretty neat, and there’s a bunch of good jokes sprinkled in there. So it is an enjoyable read.
I can’t find any contemporary reviews of this, so I guess I wasn’t the only one that was unaware that it existed. David Chelsea in Love got some attention, so it’s weird that Kitchen Sink wasn’t able to get it noticed, but Kitchen Sink was sinking, so…
It has never been reprinted, but you can pick up used copies for a fraction of the original cover price, so I guess Kitchen Sink did print a whole bunch of these (and presumably lost a bunch of money).
What truly sets the work apart is the excellent pointillism here. It’s so detailed and so well done that it looks as if each panel was an almost nightmare to draw.
To accomodate this farce, he’s adopted an amusing, pseudo-representational style, emphasizing comic exaggeration and abbreviated tonal modeling, to mostly good comedic effect.
The book is willfully weird; coherent enough to be followed, but too surreal for it to be appreciated in its entirety. Regardless, the intricate tonal stippling makes it a visual feast worthy of the $9.95 cover price no one is likely to actually be asked to pay for decades to come. Give it a toss through if it crosses your path.
CHELSEA: Mostly, I wanted to explore the more tonal stipple style that I had started to experiment with in David Chelsea In Love. Of course, that turned out to be far more labor-intensive, and l was back to the clear line style with Perspective!
CHELSEA: You know, if Zone had been a wild success, l might feel differently, but I regard this one as a misfire on just about every level, right down to my choice of a square format, which pretty much guaranteed low sales.
AUSHENKER: I remember you mentioned that Eclipse was not interested in publishing Zone following David Chelsea In Love. What was it like to work on a project for Denis Kitchen and Kitchen Sink (right before it went under)? Was this a positive, supportive experience? Did they let you execute Zone the way you intended or did they give you any input that shaped the final product?
CHELSEA: Kitchen Sink had just absorbed Tundra and there was a lot of reckless expansion going on. Ultimately, it all proved too much to handle and the company went under shortly after Zone was published. My book was lost in the shuffle; I think higher-profile projects that originated at Tundra were sucking up all the oxygen.
The Kitchen Sink people were telling Carol about some publicity stuff they had planned for her book. I blurted out, ‘What do you have in mind for MY book?’ There was a moment’s silence and then everyone burst out laughing.
Among my works, Welcome To The Zone is the redheaded stepchild, a book even people who say they are big fans haven’t read. Cursed in its timing, the book was acquired by Kitchen Sink right around the time it was taking over the list of a far larger comics publisher that was going out of business, and it got somewhat lost in the shuffle editorially as a result. By the time it appeared in 1995, Kitchen Sink itself was on its last legs, I was too preoccupied by my move from New York to Portland to do much in the way of promotion, and the book was quickly remaindered.
This is the one hundred and seventy-ninth post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.