Exit 13
by various artists & writers
(Repressed Press, 2004)

It's always unsettling when a title appears with no particular reason behind its name. Exit 13 doesn't feature 13 stories, it's not focused on off ramps, there's no significance to the number except, perhaps, that "13" might sound somewhat edgy. Not a promising sign. And it's all by new creators, people with no established portfolio in the comics world -- also a dangerous sign.

A huge relief then to find nine tales, and a spare handful of single-page contributions, all at least worth an intended chuckle, and a few worth multiple rereading. From the opening of "Citizen Christ" to the closing image of a truly sexy demon woman, Exit 13 offers a fast, unexpectedly entertaining ride.

This is a collection of work by relatively new artists, and it shows. The styles in the book are distinctive, but most lack the polish and confidence of established pros. Not all certainly; Robert R. Smith's swooping, graceful lines make "Sleeping With the Fishes" a joy to watch in the unfolding, and the unfortunately sparse illustrations in "Terror of the Monkeyman" exhibit a delightful shadowplay more often associated with Mike Mignola. And Scott Vincent balances graceful realism with joltingly sparse backgrounds for a well to give "My Critics Are Everywhere" a highly effective aura of paranoia.

For the most part, there's an uncomfortable (and ineffective) reliance on mechanical shading, a certain clunkiness in page composition and a general self awareness that doesn't always benefit the story. But every artist in the collection has achieved at least a personal sense of style, and their lack of set patterns encourages some experimentation that is, if not always effective, at least always interesting to watch.

The stories, too, sometimes tend more towards the experimental than the effective. Any collection that opens with "Citizen Christ" can be expected to lean heavily towards the social commentary comics, and with "Imagination Planet," "Brotherhood of the Four Suits" and even "A Modern Courtship," Exit 13 makes plenty of attempts to shake some social mores. How shocking any of these tales will be is going to vary wildly by reader, but they're all at least entertaining, willing to take a joke rather than stand on their own self importance, and drawn with obvious enjoyment. My own personal favorite of the political commentary entries is the one-page "Y2K Comix" in the gallery, featuring a rant by a very relaxed Thomas Jefferson. Those bored with the metaphysical can find comfort in an odd tale of cake and birds, or a simple, fast-biting little date story.

There are no "normal" stories in Exit 13, and that's a fine thing. Many people will choose to spend their $10 ($14 Canadian) on something a little more polished, slightly more coherent or just more mainstream. It leaves Exit 13 to those looking for a bit of variety, and the sort of arcing expressive energy that's sometimes a bit too grounded in more established pros. If not, as advertised, "the last stop for pure comics pleasure," it is at least a fine beginning for artists sure to have an adventure in the medium.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 24 July 2004