Last year, one of the comics I was most excited about picking up from HeroesCon was a "Flashlight Comic" by Andy Hirsch. The untitled story was a creepy little masterpiece of using the form, with black linework printed on clear plastic and superimposed over dark paper, with a flashlight-shaped piece of paper that you could slip between to "illuminate" a small circle of the page, exploring a strange and ruined house along with a stranded motorist. It was fantastic, full of tricks and surprises that made the reader an active participant in the story and conveyed a sense of fear better than almost anything I've ever read, and over the last year, I've wondered how Hirsch was going to top it, or if he was even going to bother.

Turns out that he did, and once again he's using paper comics to do things that you can only do with physical objects. The story he's telling this year is called Station 38, a journey through a deadly space station sold as a cube that you unfold as you read to form the floor plan that you're exploring along with the characters. And it's amazing.



As a physical object, Station 38, seen above with a copy of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand for scale, starts out pretty unassuming -- a black cube, 2" on a side, that you open up to reveal the actual "pages" that you'll be unfolding. But when you do, the result is pretty amazing. It's designed to not be rotated as it's read, you just start unfolding it on a flat surface, with each square panel forming a section of the space station that an unnamed and lonely astronaut is exploring.

What's really cool, though, is how Hirsch uses the other side of the page. Most of the panels have simple cutaways of pipes and ducts, forming the "walls" of the station in three dimensions as you go, but every now and then, there'll be an announcement from the computer that's running the abandoned station, piping in with ominous threats.



Like the flashlight comic, Station 38 is built around the idea of isolation and exploration, controlling what the reader sees and how they see it, almost to the point of creating a feeling rather than telling a story, and it works beautifully. The sheer cleverness of how it's built is just astonishing, and there's one trick at the end that blew my mind -- when the Astronaut climbs up a ladder, the cube unfolds back over panels that you've already read, creating a second level to the space station and keeping the geography that was created intact.

The only thing that's not perfect about it is that, by its very nature, it's actually a little awkward to read. It requires a chunk of space, and it helps if you've got something to weigh down the corners so that they don't fold up. Thankfully, I had Bulbasaur and Funky Winkerbean handy:



But really, that's a small price to pay for the experience that you're getting.

Hirsch is already a pretty phenomenally talented sequential artist, but seeing him think about using the medium as more than just a page to draw on, figuring out how to make the reader complicit in telling the story in what has always been a passive medium? That's pretty amazing.

Hirsch is selling Station 38 at conventions this summer.