Massive Black's Transient in Review

December 4, 2012 1:26 am

Tags: 2D, Book Review, Books, Massive Black, Transient

file_489104.jpgThe graphic novel, "Transient", (ISBN: 978-0-615-54471-7) also billed as "Transient Man" in some places, is self-described as:

"Transient is a black comedy about a homeless man who's visions lead him to believe he is an inter-dimensional savior of humanity, on a mission to save the universe.

Is he indeed the "one", chosen by mystical divine forces to embark on a crusade against ultimate evil, or a hopeless lunatic, aimlessly wandering the streets of San Francisco?

Transient is a spoof on the hero's journey that's part Men in Black, part Raising Arizona, flavored with liberal portions of Ghostbusters and John Steinbeck. It is a ballad to the city by the bay, and a heartfelt tale of the sacrifices one man will take for his love for his family, his friends, and all of humankind."

What it really is, is 212 large format full-color pages of a hallucinogenic story on acid - in rich detail. In fact, that's kind of how the story starts out. There's a lot of hidden humor in the story. It should be read somewhat as a spoof on the more atypical hero vs. evil. There's some situational humor, stoner humor and a few inside jokes that revolve around Massive Black (the S.F. based publisher and concept studio founded by the book's author, Justin Kaufman).


Click on the images in this review to see a higher resolution version. You need to check them out. The high resolution versions are pretty amazing. They're also more representative of what you'll find in the actual printed book. There's a lot of detail in each cell and it's worth seeing them up close. Go ahead, click on one! Special thanks to Massive Black for providing these and also to Ballistic Publishing for helping me get in touch with everyone to make this review possible!



I really loved the artwork in Transient. The details are astounding. Justin Kaufman is an exceptionally talented artist, and it shows. There's a lot of skill and a lot of heart put into each cell, which really helps tell a richly detailed story in the life of our homeless hero, Bob.

Unfortunately, the only thing I found I didn't like about Transient - was the story itself. Even after reading the book cover-to-cover in a single sitting and running it over in my head for over a month (my apologies to the publisher), I never really warmed up to it.

The humor, while it made me chuckle in places, wasn't the usual laugh-out-loud variety. Or at least not for me. The story was pretty cracked out. There were many inexplicable events, and what appears to be the general requirement for LSD when reading parts of it. Even so, it's internally consistent within the universe of Bob, who is either truly gifted in seeing creatures on another plane of existence, or is suffering form schizophrenia (the book leaves this to the reader to decide).


The fact that the protagonist is the least expected of all heroes - a homeless man teetering on the border of total insanity is an unusual twist. I loved the concept, but in many ways it felt like the book glorified Bob and his friends for everything from abandoning his job to walking out on his family in the name of the greater good - to theft, substance abuse, trespassing, gross public indecency, assault with a bodily fluid... lots of crazy, crazy stuff goes on in Bob's head, and indeed his world. In an ironic sense, the story is very real.

While Transient is probably not something I'd get little Timmy for Christmas, if you're looking for a pretty psychedelic story to read yourself - backed up by bar-none the best painting I've seen in a long while - look no further. You'll never look at the local homeless guy the same!


The inspiration for Transient was kind of interesting to read about. To roughly paraphrase: If you've ever seen a homeless person rambling to themselves in the street while pushing a grocery cart full of junk and wondered, "how does a person end up like that?," Transient offers one possible answer.


The conflicts in Transient are mostly resolved at the end, but leave open the possibility of a sequel. Damn those pidgins and the evil bird man!

The Art

The art is the real heart and soul of the book and it is fantastic throughout. Justin Kaufman is an exceptionally talented artist, and it shows (again, click one to see a higher resolution image to really understand). How he manages to tease so much detail, such rich texture and subtle tones in both light and shadow out of each stroke is amazing. From a photographer's perspective, there were several shots in Transient that, as a photograph, would be worthy of award in composition, subject and lighting.


Mr.Kaufman is also a very talented storyteller. Despite never warming up to the story that was told, the talent used to tell it was quite evident. He put a lot of heart into the book, and for that alone I applaud him. It's his first book, so I have to grant him some slack - but not for the artwork. It rocks all by itself and is worth checking out (You hear that? I grant you a pass!).


The visual fluidity made it trivial to envision the book as if it were a live-action movie. Who knows? Maybe one day it will be. It was daunting to try and keep in mind that the hundreds of richly detailed cells were drawn by a single individual. They are consistent in both style and quality throughout. I can't even imagine the number of hours he must have put in to create them all.


Spoiler alert

I tried to resist, but can't! One scene bothered me more than any other. It was a scene near the end in which Bob's son basically forgives the him for ditching the family. His son mentions that he hated his father for years for running away, but at no point in the book can I recall this anger ever really coming out. In every scene featuring his son, he seems eager to forgive his father for choosing the life of a glorified vagabond.


In many ways, I wish his son held resentment toward his father. It would have provided continued personal conflict into the potential sequel. I'm still not certain why the protagonist chose sleeping in the alley and dumpster diving as a requirement to save mankind, but save mankind he did, and we're all very thankful for it.


Bottom Line

The visuals are inarguably fantastic, the story is well told - the story itself I personally had trouble relating to, but it was still entertaining.

You can check out almost every page on the Transient website, for free, to determine if it's a flavor you'll like. The art itself is worth a closer look - check it out:

All supporting images are copyright, and cannot be
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission

Kurt Foster (Modulok) falls somewhere between programmer and visual effects artist. When not sifting through technical manuals, he takes on freelance roles in both programming and visual effects, attempting to create a marriage of technical knowledge with artistic talent. He can be seen helping out on the Renderosity Maya forum, when time permits.




December 10, 2012

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