It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, but seeing as my good friend Chad Bilyeu has released the first issue of his new independent comic, I figured it’s time for another “Break From The Bat” article. The Re-Up is an autobiographical comic book series, in which Chad—together with Dutch illustrator Juliette de Wit—tells us about a weed enterprise that he used to run in Washington, DC, years ago. Knowing Chad, this is going to be a wild ride, and I would like to invite all of you to check this out. So, without further ado, let’s have a look!
A good story needs a good opening line, one that tells you what to expect from the story without giving away too much. The Re-Up #1, being a comic, has a good opening panel that does exactly that. It sets the premise effectively, introducing the journey that Chad is about to take in this series. It’s a strong hook that promises a fun adventure and potentially hints at an antagonist that might start playing a role later in the series. This first issue shows us how Chad gets involved in the weed business, who his partners are, and what makes Chad decide to do this.
What’s interesting about this book is that it doesn’t entirely consist of panels and sequential art. The Re-Up is a seamless blend of prose and comic strip, where both elements are always in service to one another. The prose is being used to provide us with relevant context and backstory, whereas the comic strip sections are used to zero in on certain events, showing us how they play out in more detail. The format works great; the prose and comic sections are timed well, making for a strong narrative structure. Moreover, it allows Chad to cover more story within the page count that he has available.
Most of the prose sections are concise and fit nicely in between panels. However, some of them run a bit long, and at times it gets slightly rambly. Had these sections been more to the point, not only would the prose overall have been more consistent in terms of length and style, but just that little bit of extra polish would’ve made the book shine even more. Then there are times where the narration starts to lean more toward telling than showing. I think that that’s almost unavoidable, given the autobiographical story structure and the context that this first issue needs to establish, but since this is still mainly considered a comic book, I think that slightly more streamlined prose would balance out the telling and showing bits more, thus resulting in a cleaner narration.
That said, the writing voice that Chad employs throughout the book is crisp, and the clever use of dry wit makes for a very entertaining and easy read. Especially the dialogue—literally all of it—is a real highlight when it comes to the writing in this issue. All the characters that we meet here have unique-sounding voices and the slang that Chad writes adds that much more flavor to each of the lines, without getting in the way of readability. If anything, this only makes the book more fun to read. To boot, the way in which characters talk to each other tells us a lot about their relationships with each another, which is a sign of effective and precise character writing.
As for the art, Juliette de Wit’s illustrations are fabulous. Her work is incredibly consistent, as her characters always look the same in terms of proportions and body language, no matter which angle she chooses. The facial expressions of her characters, as well as the characters themselves, are well-designed: each of them looks unique, in the ways that they move and behave and dress. What I find particularly strong about the art is how she keeps approaching scenes from different angles to make those scenes more interesting. For example, there is a scene where Chad and his friends are driving around in a car, talking. Car scenes aren’t always the most riveting passages, but Juliette’s dynamic approach to angles and perspective (sometimes we’re inside the car, sometimes outside; sometimes we’re to the left of the car, sometimes to the right, front or back) keeps this scene visually interesting. I feel like we always look at big splash pages or striking superhero poses to determine how good an artist is, and while those types of pages certainly allow an artist to show off their skills, I think that a much better benchmark is looking at these more mundane passages. If the artist can make a simple car ride a visual delight, you know you’re dealing with a master cartoonist.
What’s more, I’m a huge fan of the economic use of color. The various shades of black, gray and white create a good sense of depth that help establish perspective and give us a clear sense of location, as well as where all the characters and objects are relative to each other. But it’s not entirely in black, white and gray; we also see several green tones throughout the book. Sometimes it’s just a subtle splash of green, and at other times the color is much more prevalent across an entire page. It adds another layer that gives the book a unique look and feel, setting it apart from all other comics that you’ll see on stands, and of course it’s a very fitting color for a comic that’s essentially about weed and stoners.
All things considered, this first issue succeeds at what it needs to do, which is setting up an ongoing story. We don’t really see much conflict or challenges for our protagonist to overcome just yet, but that makes sense, since this is only the start of Chad’s grand adventure in the world of weed enterprises. After this first issue, we know what the book’s about, and there’s a good sense of direction, and I can’t wait to find out where exactly this is going.
- You are into independent and underground comics.
- You like stoner-adventure stories.
- You want to see incredible artwork that’s very different from what you’re used to seeing in American comics.
- You really need a break from the bat.
Overall: The Re-Up #1 is a very entertaining, well-written and beautifully drawn independent comic book. The dialogue is strong and witty; the characters and locations all look great; and the economic use of color is highly effective. If you like indie and underground comics, or if you want to read something different, definitely check this one out. Highly recommended!
Buy The Re-Up #1 and Chad’s other comics at www.chadinamsterdam.nl.
Follow Chad on Instagram.
Follow Chad on Twitter at @CHADinAMSTERDAM.
Check out Juliette de Wit’s art at www.juliettedewit.nl.
Follow Juliette de Wit on Instagram.