By Ben Kooyman
Australian comics creators clearly have galactic fisticuffs on the brain. Two weeks ago we reviewed Alex Chung and Louie Joyce’s cosmic romance Astral (read our take here), and this week we visit another far-flung galaxy with writer-illustrator Dan Watts’ Bipp and Trax: Intergalactic Real Estate.
Bipp and Trax are working stiffs with oval-shaped heads from the planet Osaan. They’re currently in the employ of (and in debt to) a shifty cigar-chomping realtor, Mr D, and are assigned to transport a pet to one of Mr D’s new tenants. Their pilot is a former bounty hunter, Ink Blackwell, who’s in trouble with the villainous Black Hornet. Between their oversized package, Mr D’s machinations, and Black Hornet’s quest for vengeance, Bipp and Trax’s routine delivery proves considerably more than bargained for.
Okay, so this is the part where I alienate the comics hardcore by comparing a comic to a movie and irritate the hipster hardcore by talking about Star Wars, but here goes: Bipp and Trax: Intergalactic Real Estate reminded me of Star Wars. Not the behemoth we know as Star Wars today, with its sequels and prequels and offshoots and merchandise and corporate sheen, but the film that begat it all before it begat it all. There’s a tendency to think of Star Wars as slick commercial product, but the real commercial products of its era were flicks like Airport and The Towering Inferno: long, lumbering star-studded melodramas with laborious messages. We’re so familiar and comfortable with Star Wars that it’s hard to recall how nimble and weird and experimental it was (a fact substantiated by its disastrous early screenings), not to mention its maligned director.
Bipp and Trax: Intergalactic Real Estate exists in a post-Star Wars genre densely populated with well-worn tropes, but Watts’ book has some of that same nimble energy that characterizes pre-saga Star Wars, as well as some other tangible similarities: scrappy blue collar protagonists, crazy critters populating every panel, great and iconic character designs, punchy pacing that piles on and powers through incidents, and economical storytelling that provides the world-building necessities while hinting at a wider, crazier world beyond the frame. And in ditching the pretensions of the heroes journey, there’s a fun “just another day in the life” quality to the story.
In addition, Watts’ black and white illustrations bring to mind Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. While that perception may be inflated by the fact that Bipp and Trax’s heads are vaguely Turtle-shaped, there’s also a similar D.I.Y. spunk and dynamism in his artwork. Also noteworthy is the format of the comic: the book has a rectangular rather than standard comic book shape, which allows for some great wide compositions and panoramic reading motions, and I welcome more storytelling in this novel format.
Bipp and Trax: Intergalactic Real Estate is out now and available via www.danwatts.com.au