Thursday, July 1, 2010

A 9/11 Thriller That Isn't About Terrorism

Nathan Sorry has one of the best webcomic pitches I've ever seen.

With thousands of webcomics dotting the Infosphere, it is more important than ever to have a solid pitch, something that quickly encapsulates what your webcomic is about and what audiences should expect.

Here is Rich Barrett's pitch for Nathan Sorry: "Nathan Sorry did not die on 9/11. He ran."

Even without reading the comic, I already have an inkling that Nathan Sorry is a thriller about a man who vanishes from the grid in the chaotic aftermath of September 11th. I already know whether this was the kind of comic I wanted to read.

I don't come across a lot of crime/thriller webcomics, which is surprising given how well comics lend themselves to the crime genre. From the violent morality plays of 100 Bullets to the straight-up badassery of Darwyn Cooke's Parker adaptations, crime does well on the comic book page.

But far from being a head-knocking heist man, the protagonist of Nathan Sorry is a timid white-collar crook who's been helping his coworker embezzle money from their employer. On September 11th, 2001, Nathan was supposed to return to New York and his dreary World Trade Center desk job after a business trip in Arizona. Instead, he wakes up late for his flight with a nasty hangover, unclear on what happened the night before. He arrives at the airport just in time to watch the Towers fall on television. Suddenly, he realizes that everyone he works with is dead, and everyone he knows assumes he's dead, too.

Now he's got an obituary and access to ready cash a new identity. So what does he do? He disappears.

Like so many people dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, Nathan begins to question the very nature of his reality. How did he, a man who always feared airplanes, manage to avoid a head-on collision with one? What happened on the night of September 10th, and what does it mean that he can't remember? What forces allowed Nathan to escape not only death, but also his life?

As Nathan hides out in a small North Carolina town, waiting for American life to cool back down so he can escape to the Caymans, he begins to suffer from an existential paranoia. That paranoia could come in handy, as Nathan wasn't entirely successfully in covering his tracks.

I've actually been putting off reading Nathan Sorry for some time now because the artwork left me cold. The opening airport scene is a bit flat, and the blue-gray tint doesn't do much to warm things up. But as I read, I noticed there are a lot of rough spots in the art, places where the faces or off or a character stiffly tries to smoke a cigarette, and I realized I'm just seeing an unpracticed hand. As the comic progresses, a more confident style begins to emerge.

Barrett also has a knack for building suspense. At 47 pages, it's a slow burn so far, but one of nicely building mysteries. What did happen the night Nathan blacked out? Will the feds realize that Nathan Sorry didn't die in the Twin Towers? Is Casey, the small-town waitress he seems destined to befriend, as wholesome as she seems? And what does a post-9/11 world mean for a man on the run from his own identity?

[Nathan Sorry]