Review by Frank Plowright
Nowhere Men is a bleak and beguiling dense jigsaw, ambitiously dotting back and forth through time, presenting an interesting pseudo-analogy and a terse warning. Eric Stephenson takes the idea of everything being reduced to 24 hour celebrity culture and applies it to science, emphasising the t-shirt quote placed on the cover that science is the new rock’n’roll.
At a never specifically identified point in the past, the early 1970s if the fashions displayed are accurate, four acclaimed scientists unite to form World Corp. Beyond their youth and profession, there’s actually little glue holding Dade Ellis, Simon Grimshaw, Emerson Strange and Thomas Walker together. Their maverick personalities differ wildly, but their ultimately hollow sound bites and charismatic presence nonetheless sustain a public infatuation beyond a bitter and inevitable parting of the ways and the consequent fallout.
Their individual spheres of expertise are never defined, so they’re cast as multi-purpose dabblers. Their goings-on are spliced with the experiences of a group of other scientists in the present day, trapped somewhere isolated, all affected by a virus that’s mutating them, reduced to desperation on hearing they’re to be quarantined. Transformation is a key process throughout, as all parties end up in a place very different from their earliest chronological appearances.
An immediate inclination may be to invoke comparisons with the similarly science-themed Manhattan Projects. Both present an out of control cast, both are coloured by Jordie Bellaire, both are very good, and Nate Bellegarde’s impressive art isn’t too far removed from the style used by Nick Pitarra. Nowhere Men is a very different beast, though, lacking the broad comical streak and emphasising design. The story pages are spliced with all sorts of magazine articles, posters, book extracts and personality profiles offering background information and occasionally introducing elements that will later feed into the strip. The narrative can be followed if these are skipped, but they add depth and perception.
Given the many musical references extending well beyond the title – a video stream on TVC-15 is a minor example – and the stated comparison of the four leads with the Beatles, there may be a temptation to view the whole series as analogy. It doesn’t hold up, though, and this appears mere whimsical indulgence on Stephenson’s part. Yet for someone who thrives on such minor detail it’s a shame the Camberwell Carrot is mis-named. Or does this indicate the reliability of the recollections in which it occurs? Nowhere Men is so layered throughout, one can’t be sure.
Bellegarde’s grimacing cast are initially off-putting, but the consistent look, detailed approach and evolving style are such that by the end of the book you’ll be a fan. It’s also important to mention the contribution of Fonografiks for not just lettering, but design work. The inserted ephemera brings a unique look to Nowhere Men.
The initial comics were nominated for an Eisner Award, but after this incredibly promising start Nowhere Men has stalled for sad reasons easily located online. If Fates Worse Than Death is to be the only collection it’s worth seeking out despite not drawing all matters to a tidy conclusion, as there’s enough spirit, style and enterprise to sustain it in isolation.