The Heights of Hilarity

Pop art collaborators draw funnies that recall Warhol’s Factory

“Vertical” is just such an accomplishment, and takes its title to a literal extreme. Unlike most comic books, which are six inches wide by ten inches high, “Vertical” is three by ten inches, stapled at the top, and opens heightwise, allowing for 20-inch high spreads. In moviespeak, it would be dubbed a “tall screen” spectacle.

This size gimmick is certainly put to spectacular visual use: writer Steven T. Seagle and artists Mike Allred and Philip Bond have concocted a fable about a 21-year-old, Brando Bale, who possesses an ability to jump from tall heights and land––almost unscathed. The 20-inch high falling tableaus are eye-popping, and “Vertical” definitely stands above your typical quirky retro love story.

It’s 1965, New York City. Brando is one of the many good-looking fame-seekers populating Andy Warhol’s Factory. One day, while looking around for Andy, Brando runs into Zilly Kane, a white-haired wannabe actress and dead-ringer for Edie Sedgwick. The pair bonds over hot dogs and a demonstration of Brando’s high diving ability, after which he helps finagle a screen test for Zilly. Cameraman Kerr, long lusting for Brando to star in a movie, decides to shoot the film starring the pair later that day. This angers perpetually-nude Warhol superstar Tony Century, who decides to teach Brando a lesson for attempting to usurp his throne. However, Brando is more preoccupied with confronting the ghost he sees whenever he jumps. Can Zilly help Brando keep his feet on earth before a fall proves too high to survive?

There are nods aplenty to Warhol’s 60s heyday and its players. One running joke involves Andy’s never being around or doing any of his own work. “He’s always here, but he’s never around,” remarks Brando. Tony Century is an obvious riff on gay lust icon Joe Dallesandro, whose appearances in Warhol’s films, including “Flesh” and “Trash,” are legendary. Meanwhile, Factory pop art fixtures like silver balloons and faux supermarket item boxes, and a cameo by Warhol himself also pepper the retro scenery.

Speaking of retro, penciler Allred’s crisp pop art style suits the story perfectly––indeed, in a career-long warm-up to this project, he’s been playing around in a 60s upper-brow kitsch sandbox for years now on books like “The Atomics,” “Madman,” and “X-Statix,” an X-Men spin-off featuring gay mutants.

Inker Bond, who contributed seamless additional detail, is also no stranger to pop aesthetics, having worked on the quirky “Vertigo Pop: London” miniseries last year. Meanwhile, Allred’s wife and oft-collaborator, Laura, provides gorgeous colors and stylistic nods to Warhol, Lichtenstein, and others. Thanks to computer imaging, she also incorporates clever three-dimensional textures, including crumpled paper for walls, paint effects, and fabric patterns.

Although Seagle attempts to inject shots of storytelling depth ––reconciling tragedies, the nature of neediness for fame, suicide, and love––into “Vertical”’s superficial setting and characters, they’re hardly necessary. In fact, the satirical, shallow elements such as Tony running around naked and pretentious art fag Kerr, who speaks with a generic European accent, are the story’s strongest elements. Warhol’s ilk were as flaky as they come––or at least that’s how we loved them––and “Vertical”’s larger-than-life––or at least taller-than life––take on that 60s clique makes the notion of a Factory-based graphic novel or comic book series featuring Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, Ondine, and all the rest absolutely mouthwatering.

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