Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ayre Forced: Canadian crime story behind Ayre Force more compelling than the book!

Before you read any further there are a few things I want to make clear.
1) I love bears.

Absolutely the cutest bear picture
I could find.

Bears and I have spent years respecting each others' personal boundaries and I plan to continue that non-contact, long distance, furry relationship. I wouldn’t hurt them for the world.

2) I’m against bear bile farming. Totally.

Absolutely the least alarming bear bile farm
picture I could find.

I did a little reading up on it too. There is a dilmma here; bear bile has been proven to be a miracle ingredient in a number of medicines and products. Despite assertions to the contrary, man-made alternatives have not proven effective this far.

Still, you’re unlikely to be surprised how difficult it is to find a website that shows the harvesting of bear bile from imprisoned bruins in a positive light. The only one I found was this guy, who insists that new surgical techniques allowing him to insert a second, artificial gall bladder into the bear's stomach to collect and extract their bile keep bears from being slaughtered. Better to torture for years than be done with it so quickly, right?

So yeah, Bear Bile Farming...definitely not for that.

3) I’m a fan of Bif Naked.

Come on. You know who I’m talking about.

That’s the one. Indian/American/Canadian funny girl always ready to goof around. Voracious reader, potty-mouthed, kick-ass rock chick, animal and fishie lover, and tattooed lady, seeker of spiritual enlightenment and beauty, kicker of cancer ass, heavy-duty gym rat, and apparently, a cartoonist to boot!

So please remember. I’m all for bears and Bif but not for bile.

You may begin reading.
Back when I started Comicanuck I posted about artist Shawn Martinbrough’s book “How to Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of Visual Storytelling”. I was impressed with Shawn’s homemade trailer for his book and the overall savvy and slickness he brought to his marketing. I still think creators could learn from Shawn about maximizing their potential audience reach with a little creativity.

The website for Shawn’s multi-disciplinary company, Verge Entertainment, led me to Ayre Force, a trade paperback Shawn illustrated for Bodog Entertainment. Bodog and Ayre Force have a Canadian connection in former owner (and Forbes cover boy), Calvin Ayre.

Ayre Force is a good example of a comic that is attempting to sell something through the comic rather than selling just the comic itself. We’ve seen comics used to hock products, raise awareness on issues (like 1983’s The New Teen Titans #1: Drug Awareness Giveaway, featuring Robin analogue the Protector) and build brand awareness (the most recent being Virgin Comics' splashy, abandoned attempt to enter the market with big name writers).

There’s a lot we can learn from Ayre Force. The book is an excellent example of good and bad ways to approach these sorts of books. As well, the story of Bodog entertainments less than savory owner is a compelling story of Canadian crime and ego run amok.

Ayre Force features the introductory adventures of a crack team of eco-counter terrorists who fight a covert war against those who would perpetrate environmental destruction of the mad scientist sort upon our unsuspecting mother Earth.

The team is led by badass, ex-military man, Calvin Ayre (based on the real Calvin Ayre, the man cutting the cheques on this project), and his right hand woman, Fawn Labrie (formerly Fawn Seeton), real-life Event Producer for Bodog through Riptown Media. (From throwing some of Bodog’s most lavish parties to overthrowing evil empires. It’s a natural progression!)

Ayre’s team is composed of real Bodog clients who use their celebrity identities as famous musicians, ultimate fighters and poker players to provide foolproof cover. That’s right, poker players. Hide in plain sight, right?

The Ayre Force team (Named after its leader and publisher… And why avoid such a great play on Calvin Ayre's name when it’s there for the taking?) is engaged in an ongoing covert war with pharmaceutical magnate Janus Winter’s evil Wintercorp to stop institutionalized animal cruelty, child abuse and abuse of the environment. And they’ll use every single, B-Level star under the Bodog umbrella to do it, if that’s what it takes.

Even Bif Naked.


...this Bif Naked.

And so the comic presents a mix of poker pros like Evelyn Ng and Josh Arieh, Bodogfight mixed martial artists Tara LaRosa and Jorge Masdival and musicians Jason Darr, Nazanin and Bif Naked (did I mention I'm a fan?)going up against Winter and his genetically-engineered, children who use various grafts and enhancements to duplicate the deadliest of animal traits.

The facility the team breaks into is a house of horrors; filled to the brim with caged bears who’ve had operation to insert various tubes directly into their stomachs to constantly collect their bile for it’s restorative properties. It sounds like a plausible, sufficiently vile, made-up piece of villainy but it’s very real and proceeds from the comic apparently go to stop this dire occurrence.

As high-concept it’s not bad idea. The name Ayre Force is solid and having various levels of celebrities as undercover agents is a workable concept. Rock Stars from Kiss to Bodog clinet Wu Tang Clan havealready licensed their images to comic books with some success. Pro fighters often veer into action films so comic books are also a good fit. And since Poker Players are on the rise as public stars, why not?

But Ayre Force had difficulty balancing it's many purposes and comic based reviews at the time were decidedly mixed. And thanks to a huge publicity blitz, most notably at the New York Comicon, the book garnered a lot of attention.

The bodacious Bodog Girls
at the New York Comicon.

From a feminist, fangirl point of view, the comic scored surprisingly well. Karen Healey of Girls Read Comics (And They’re Pissed) found the book surprisingly inoffensive; half the characters are women but there are no overtly bodacious babes or gratuitous ass and crotch shots and an attempt to be fairly representative of multiple races. As Healey sums up:

“Ayre Force is good, stupid fun and its stance on gender and race inclusion is a lot better than most things that fall into that category. It’s nowhere close to groundbreaking, but you could do much, much worse.”
Geek Girls Rule agreed with Healey about the books general inoffensiveness, if not the quality. After seeing man rags like Maxim and Stuff on the bio of co-creator Adam Slutsky, GGR had very low expectations and found...
The resulting comic is notable only for it’s lack of marked sexism and its decent art. Considering it appears to be mostly a wish-fulfillment platform for a rich guy and his friends/employees, not a bad accomplishment. Seriously, I expected it to stink on ice, and it didn’t.
Other fan reviews were more forgiving. The folks at Continuity Error felt the story was “incredibly engaging” and a “surprisingly original read” despite being put off by the book’s inherent Bodog branding. LOTRKing rated this “great read with tons of action” 4 out of 5 stars but also noted several confusing aspects to the book like unclear shifts in narrators, minimal characterization but mainly recommended readers buy it to support the fight against animal cruelty.

Meanwhile, James Schee at Reading Along was alarmed by the simplistic view of complicated issues. “The book just doesn't seem to really think its ramifications all the way out, preferring to see things as only black and white."

Matthew Brady at Warren-Peace shared some of my own concerns; mainly a paper thin plot with little characterization and art that, though moody and beautiful, doesn’t follow the action clearly nor give any of the characters enough distinction to tell them apart at times.

And Newsarama’s Chris Mautner loathed the whole thing.
“Ayre Force is one of the silliest and most blatant examples of “comics as ego-boosting pr tool” I’ve ever seen. It’s an absolutely horrible, incomprehensible book, awash in tiresome clich├ęs and abysmal dialogue, but at the same time I found myself admiring its chutzpah. That’s all I admired, but at least it’s something.”
As you can see, many reviewers and readers were confused about or put off by what Ayre Force’s aims were. Was a promo tool for Calvin Ayre or Bodog? Was it designed to promote Bodog personalities, or raise awareness and cash to fight bear bile farming? Or did Bodog plan to branch into comic books with a kick-ass action book?

This points up a common problem with books with a mission. They are either too “on message” and preachy to be entertaining, too focused on their product or they try to do too many things and fail at all of them.

And that’s exactly what we're seeing here.

If Ayre and associates wanted to promote its brand, at best this is a tertiary introduction to their wares.

If Bodog wanted to promote their artists and competitors for their music label, poker tour and fight league, they failed to capitalize on the personalities nor show them doing what they do best.

Are you trying to tell me Bodog's artists Wu Tang Clan, DMX and Bif Naked...

... This Bif Naked...

...don’t have personalities that can be used to create interesting characters? Yet in the book, the artists are pretty much interchangeable despite hastily scrawled, one-sentence back-stories.

If the purpose was to raise awareness and money to fight bear bile farming, why isn’t that plastered prominently on the front and back covers? You pretty much have to buy the book and read it to find out where your dollars are going. So it fails on that front as well.

Perhaps Ayre Force is just a straight, high-concept action comic. Despite being under written, the book does create some excitement and provide several action sequences. It’s the equivalent of Arnold Schwarzennegger’s 1985 action movie, Commando: nowhere near his best work but a fun, entertaining time waster to watch on TV when there’s nothing else on.

So, a little focus at the outset would have made this book’s aims much clearer to the buying public. That’s the challenge with any comic book. Focus.

So the question is… Why Ayre Force at all?

Whenever people hate a comic, the first question is always, “Why?” My first response was "Why not?" But as I did some digging to discover the “why” of Ayre Force, the story grew more complex and interesting than I expected.

It’s a compelling tale of corporate largesse, big money crime and a Canadian billionaire with a powerful ego, intense charm and a willingness to do anything to get ahead.

In short, it’s exactly the kind of tale Ayre Force should have been.

More next time.

Beavers Up!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I believe I am taking a copy of this one home it seems pretty interesting and I would definitely want to get a closer look on this stuff.