Mad Science & Crazy Humor: Should You Be Reading ‘Universe’?
When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With Should I Be Reading… ?, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.
Panel Syndicate, the pay-what-you-want, DRM-free digital comics publisher, is best known for The Private Eye, the excellent sci-fi thriller from Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente. With the team reuniting for another collaboration, it's easy to overlook the other comic currently being published on the site. Launched late last year, Universe is a sci-fi comic from Spanish cartoonist Albert Monteys, and it's just as worthy of your attention and chosen amount of dollars as its better-known stablemate.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Robots! Time travel! Aliens! Though they all take place in the same sci-fi setting, each issue of Universe presents a self-contained short story, taking place in its own corner of that titular universe. It's a great format, letting Monteys hit you with a brand new idea every time.
And the ideas are plentiful. Poetry-writing robots arguing for their status as people rather than machines; a company that sends someone back in time to brand every atom in the Big Bang with its logo; aliens that can only communicate with humans who breathe the air of their home planet. The second issue, and the best so far, explores a society where relationships with robots are the norm, where 'carnals' – humans who love other humans – are a novelty and having sex 'old-style' – without the use of any bionic bits or bobs – is taboo.
WHO'S IT BY?
Albert Monteys is probably best known, at least in his native Spain, for his work on satirical magazine El Jueves. Monteys resigned last year, along with a dozen other cartoonists, following a dispute with the magazine's publisher after it pulled a controversial cover from the shelves.
As you might expect, Universe! is as interested in the world we live in today as it is in the far future. Equally, though, it's probably worth mentioning that the El Jueves cover in question featured a crown filled with steaming excrement, so you probably shouldn't expect a quiet rumination on the human condition. In the pages of Universe you'll find an intelligent shopping mall running for mayor, a time traveller breeding a pet race of bipedal super-ants, an Ikea manual for setting up your robot lover... It's fair to say Monteys isn't afraid of a little silliness.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
Universe uses the same full-screen landscape layout as The Private Eye. Combined with the smooth lines and chunky figures of Monteys' cartooning, you get a comic where every single page demands you right-click and set it as your new desktop background.
Sometimes, the screen will be filled with a single figure, their expression foregrounded by Monteys' incredible use of white space. Other times, you'll be treated to a Where's Wally-style crowd shot, stuffed with tiny details and side gags. Or a dense stack of panels covering millennia of human history. Right-click, right-click, right-click.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
Underneath the gorgeous presentation, the concepts in Universe most reminded me of Philip K Dick's short story collections. If anything, Monteys' concepts are even bigger and sillier – and given that Dick's stories included the forbidden love between a human and a giant alien amoeba, and a weaponized version of Monopoly, that's really saying something.
Really, though, whether you love classic cartooning, ideas-driven sci-fi stories, or are just looking for a new desktop background, there's no excuse not to give Universe a try.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?
Universe is exclusively available from the Panel Syndicate site, which means it's a pay-what-you-want download. In theory, you could read the whole thing for free – like I said, there's really no excuse – but it's definitely worth paying for.