When art, commercialism, and greed collide, what will be left standing at the end?
From Chip Zdarksy and Image Comics comes Pubic Domain, a graphic novel about the people who make comics and the companies that control them. Miles and his brother, sons of accomplished comics artist Syd Dallas, have spent their lives under the shadow of their father’s reputation and his most famous creation, the popular comics superhero franchise, The Domain. Syd was instrumental in bringing The Domain to life in stories that would entertain fans for decades, spawning a complex and profitable IP that has expanded into films and merchandise. But with his famous creation in the hands of a powerful studio, Syd has received little credit or money for his creation.
When Miles, struggling as a journalist and with a failed relationship bringing him down, discovers an old contract that challenges assumptions about who owns the rights to his father’s most famous comics creations, it sparks a period of soul-searching as well as a potential legal battle against a powerful corporation that values nothing so much as its own well-being. Every member of the Dallas family has been struggling to find their way in a world that cares little for their well-being, and this new battle for the Domain will change all of their lives one more time.
Balancing cynicism with a love of comics, Public Domain serves as a harsh criticism of an industry that sometimes shuts out creators in favor of chasing the next profitable market wherever they can find it. However, while Zdarsky draws a bleak picture of selfish characters who care little for artistic integrity, he sets them alongside others who are driven by a love of creation. From Syd, the legendary artist, to a young comics collector, and a personal assistant who dreams of one day creating comics for herself, Public Domain never forgets the fans and dreamers who make up the best of what the comics industry can be. With intimate and complex characters, Zdarsky’s series is an examination of an industry intimately framed through the drama and dreams of Syd and his family. Humorous, tragic, and heartfelt, this story is a microcosm narrative with implications for anyone who loves reading other people’s stories or telling stories of their own. Condemning the corporate machine while dreaming of the way things can be, Public Domain is big ideas wrapped up in compelling narrative.
In addition to writing, Zdarsky also fully illustrates this comic, bringing engaging visuals and stylized realism to the pages. With distinct colors and accessible art, Zdarsky builds a world in which we can readily recognize the reflection of our own. It is this familiarity that helps Public Domain succeed. In a world where movie studios are looking for the next breakout franchise and studios fight with creators for creative control over projects, Zdarsky’s fictional world is our own, reimagined just enough to allow us to see it from a perspective we maybe haven’t quite considered before.
Image rates Public Domain for mature readers, and between strong language and the more complex themes underlying the story, it is likely best for adult readers—though there is nothing here that older teens will find particularly objectionable. And though a story about the comics industry may sound like something aimed at a niche audience, Zdarsky’s grounding of the narrative in an empathetic family drama ensures that the message of the series never overshadows the characters that shape its center. Timely and complex, Public Domain is an engaging story carefully crafted by a noteworthy comics creator with daring and passion. Across these pages, Zdarsky himself appears to wrestle with questions about the industry he is a part of. A worthy addition to any collection with an older reader base, it’s a story that should appeal, not only to artists and creators, but to anyone involved in fandom—anyone who has ever loved a story and felt their life changed for the better because someone, somewhere put pen to page and brought their imagination to life for anyone who cared to read it.
Public Domain, Vol.. 1: Past Mistakes
By Chip Zdarsky
Publisher Age Rating: M
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)