Creating an independent comic isn’t easy. There are multiple things that can go wrong, from finding a reliable artist, to getting decent printing and distribution, and finding a space for your product on shelves. Having worked in the comic industry, and the indie scene, I’ve seen multiple creators try to make it in that industry, and struggle to do so. Frank Valenti, a writer and artist from New Jersey, is the latest creator to try and make their way in this competitive field with their new graphic novel Chocolateers.
Chocolateers, written and drawn by Valenti, tells a few stories within the same universe. The main story is about Gilby Moss, a guy in the latter part of his twenties who has been trying to make it as part of a band for the last decade. With his 30s looming, and no sign that his music career is going to be taking off anytime soon, he’s lost at sea. He doesn’t know what to do with his life if he can’t make it as a musician, and whiles away his spare time helping his best friend out with his pizza delivery job. One day when grabbing some lunch a ta local fast food restaurant, Gilby wins a free food for life competition; a competition that was never supposed to have a winner.
Meanwhile, his girlfriend Muffin and her best friend are working on their tiny food science channel, trying to have some fun and hopefully grab an audience. Things aren’t going so well for them, and the girls are considering whether or not to carry on, when their channel gets a shout-out on the nation’s most popular talk show, netting them hundreds of thousands of new viewers.
We also meet former TV game show host turned actor turned politician, King Cordial, who runs Cocoa Nation. Cordial’s approval ratings keep dropping, and he becomes desperate to find a way to win over public affection whilst he works on making the perfect chocolate flavoured beverage. He comes up with the plan to create a boy band; one that will become the most popular around, believing that having a connection to them will regain his standing with the public. In the neighbouring country of NillaNation, their leader Baron von Vanilla, a rival of Cordial’s who had an almost identical career path, is slipping into dementia, but vows to ruin his rival any way he can, including kidnapping their star TV personality. There’s also a sub-plot of a mob-run fast food restaurant manager trying to steal back Gilby’s free food card thrown in for good measure.
How do these plots all tie in together? Well, they don’t really; at least until the last few pages. It’s only at the end of the first volume that these seemingly unconnected stories start to finally come together. And that’s perhaps the main issue with this first volume: it’s all set-up. A lot happens in Chocolateers yet also very little happens. The plot simmers in the background as most of the scenes are given over to world building or developing the characters.
There are multiple scenes that go over three or four pages that are simply two or three characters sitting around talking. They discuss their lives, their goals, the people around them, and much of the book comes across as like listening in on someone’s conversations. The characters meander, they get distracted, they take a while to get to the point, and they have in-jokes and banter with each other. This kind of writing can be divisive; there are some that enjoy this kind of laid back approach to dialogue, and there’s definitely a niche for that in comics. If you enjoy films like Clerks, where characters stand around and shoot the breeze with each other, or your favourite parts of Tarantino movies are where the characters are chatting about unconnected stuff, this book will likely appeal for those same reasons. Thanks to some of the pages being heavy on the dialogue it also ends up feeling like you’re reading a much longer book, giving you more content for your cash.
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As mentioned before, Valenti not only writes the script, but provides the art on the book too. The characters of Chocolateers are animals: anthropomorphic bears, lions, and goats, to name a few. Whilst the story of Chocolateers feels like a very human one, and the issues facing the characters could easily fit within a real-world setting, having the characters be animals people helps to add some colour and flair to the story. When the story is more grounded it helps to have something a bit different visually, and this book does just that. The artwork is simple and clean, with thick lines and bright colours, and looks decent throughout, with a lot of attention given to backgrounds and small details.
Why is the book called Chocolateers though? This issue doesn’t tell you. However, the trailer for the book does reveal a bit more about the story than in presented in this first volume, and does explain why it has that particular title. With the first volume spending a lot of time establishing the world and the characters there’s nothing stopping Valenti jumping straight into things with volume two.
Chocolateers is available now.