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The Backstagers #1 is obviously informed by writer James Tynion IV‘s personal experiences as a member of a high school back stage crew. There’s a warmth and a sense of heart to the issue that communicates the memories of his time there. And though I’d say the book is pleasant and charming, it doesn’t quite come across as witty or as engaging as it wants to be.
The Backstagers #1 tells the story of Jory, the new kid at an all boys school. Stuck with finding an after-school activity while his mom is at work, Jory is filled with the anxiety that typifies the high school experience. He initially decides upon drama club, thinking of joining as an actor, but a simple trip backstage to meet the collection of outsiders who make up the crew results in a bizarre and magical adventure that changes his life’s direction.
As I said above, Tynion clearly has a lot of love for the idea of the backstage crew. He creates a cast of outsiders, effectively recreating the time-honoured method of surviving high school and adolescence through finding that group of friends that truly get you when no one else does. The issue has a lot of heart in that regard. Similarly, the adventure they go on, while simple, is suitably weird and charming enough to hold your interest. I think that the Backstagers themselves are defined to varying degrees of success, with some getting more time to pique our interest than others, but you have to leave something for the next issue, so that’s not a huge problem.
The main issue lies in the fact that this book overall feels very familiar. If you read it and think it’s an awful lot like a male version of “Lumberjanes,” you’d be right. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s certainly enough room in comics for two books focusing on the adolescent adventures of witty outsiders who find their value in the group they form while they go on charmingly insane adventures. But if you’re going to echo “Lumberjanes,” then you have to be at least as good as “Lumberjanes,” and I don’t think The Backstagers #1 is. The jokes are less smart and the tone doesn’t feel as effortless. The issue came across as trying really hard to be whimsical, as opposed to actually being so. Whimsy is a difficult tone to capture, and while I felt like Tynion has a good handle on his concept and his goals, the book feels like it’s straining to capture its style rather than just having it ingrained. The best part of the issue was the strangeness of the setting and the adventure they find themselves embroiled in, and that could improve things as the miniseries goes along and the plot becomes more central.
The art Rian Sygh is pretty good, for the most part, especially when it focuses on the characters and their expressions. There’s a lovely cartooning meets manga style that creates a lot of the fun tone. But Sygh also opts for blank backgrounds in a lot of the layouts, resulting in fantastic settings that suddenly lose all detail in favor of blank walls and colored panels. The fantastic stuff needs to have all the detail, and I realize not every one requires intricate backgrounds, but having nothing really means the atmosphere kind of disappears during the climax, and that’s a shame.
All in all, while I found The Backstagers #1 a pleasant enough experience, it feels a bit too reminiscent of other, better sources to stand out. And that’s why I have to give it a 6/10.