In 1993 Vertigo put out one of the more unusual comics. Not so much in the story or the art but the format. Entitled Vertical, the one shot book was slightly less than 3 1/2" x 10". In keeping with its title, it gave the book a feeling of everything being elongated that worked especially well for scenes depicting heights. It was also like reading a foreign language in that there was no reading across panels horizontally. It was strictly a vertical read. While well suited for this story, it's not a format that would work well for most stories.
Mike Allred did a great job on the art. It's his distinctive style and really captures the feeling of the era in which the story is set. Steven T Seagle wrote the story, which is an interesting, small scale story. The characters are well developed in 66 pages, which with the format used is about the equivalent of 33 pages (possibly less) of a regular book. With this short story Seagle did a good job of staying away from stock stereotypes to move the story more quickly. He acknowledges the racial and social background of the era but doesn't restrict himself to those elements.
As to the story itself, it's set in 1965 in Soho in the Andy Warhol Factory. Warhol's a tangential character, but the vibe of the story shows how he's a strong influence in the lives of the central characters. Brando Bale works at the Factory as a go-fer of sorts. He wanted to join the military but has a bad foot that makes him 4-F. The bad foot doesn't keep him from jumping off buildings, though, always landing with no ill consequences beyond minor scrapes and bruises and the brief loss of consciousness. Zilly Kane is an aspiring actress with platinum blonde hair who comes to the Factory to try out for a role in a Warhol film.
Naturally, these two beautiful people meet and have a strong attraction. Brando feels guilty about it, for reasons that aren't initially explained. Still, he takes her out for a free hot dog in the park and shows her how he jumps from heights and never gets seriously hurt. He also talks about a brother who died in Korea and how he ended up at the Factory before getting her bumped to the front of the long line for the screen test. Zilly's the one the director, Kerr, wants, and he wants Brando to play opposite her.
This leads to one of the more amusing sequences of the book. The guy who was supposed to be the lead is named Tony Century. He walks around the Factory naked all the time. He's mad that Brando is taking his part and hunts for Brando. Zilly tries to warn Brando but he proceeds to tell her about the dead woman he sees when he jumps off of high structures, so Century finds him and punches him in the jaw before she can warn him. There's really no point to the whole naked guy sequence. He doesn't move the story forward at all because Brando tells Zilly what he needs to tell her anyway and Century storms off to find Warhol after that one punch. It's just that the whole idea of a naked guy lurking around the Factory because Warhol thinks it's shocking so encapsulates the ridiculousness of the whole Factory thing that I can't help but smile about it.
But back to the story. Brando's big reveal is that he doesn't jump off heights becuase he's a daredevil or suicidal. No, he jumps because he sees the ghost of his dead love when he's falling. Seems our pretty white boy had a black girlfriend of whom his father disapproved. One night, while the two of them were sneaking out his window, they fell off the roof. She died and he damaged his foot landing on her. There is an element of the suicidal in his leaps, though, as it appears he's hoping he'll die so he can be with her.
Things have changes with his love at first sight meeting of Zilly (who has the voice of her dad in her head that tells her things she, by all appearances, shouldn't know, and that she should marry a nice Jewish boy). He's torn between his feelings for Zilly and his guilt about his dead love. He seizes a jet pack (Warhol's a pack rat who's got boxes and boxes of things just stacked around), tries to take off to get to a sufficient height to break his neck, but Zilly, having grabbed a helmet, grabs him around his legs and holds on. When the jet pack's unable to carry both their weight they tumble downward, with Zilly hearing her dad say it's ok to be with Brando (she's Jewish and Brando is not) and Brando hearing his dead love absolve him for her death. The survive, miraculously as Brando has in all his previous falls, but landing on Warhol's boxes of junk, just as Warhol makes his only appearance in the book.
It's a nice little diversion. It could have used some editing help, though. First off, where Zilly's holding on to Brando's legs while he's using the jet pack, she'd have been roasted like a chicken on a spit. It's an otherwise realistic story (leaving aside the voices in heads and ghosts), so this jet pack element in the story is hard to take. This isn't Rocketeer, after all.
Second, at one point the dead girlfriend's name is Lula but at another it's Lona. Doesn't make any difference which one it is, but it's an easy, glaring error that should have been noticed by an editor.
Those are fairly minor points, though. I think it's more impressive that we have a good idea of what's going on in Zilly's head even though Brando is our narrator. We have an easy window into his thoughts that way, but not so clear a view of what Zilly's thinking. Nonetheless, we do get it, even what her dad's telling her in her head. That's a good bit of writing, there.
I have no idea what the availability is on this book. It was $4.95 in 1993, which was pretty expensive now that I think about it. Guess I had some free money back then. Didn't have kids, so I may well have. Anyway, if you get a chance to pick it up, I definitely recommend it for both Allred's art and Seagle's writing.
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