Airboy #1 Review

Written by: James Robinson

Art by: Greg Hinkle

Publisher: Image

Well that was… unexpected. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I picked up Airboy; I’d consider myself a fan of Robinson, and the meta take sounded like the sort of thing that I’d enjoy, but even then I was not prepared for what I read. Airboy is like an HBO black comedy with the comics industry as the backdrop, one that showcases a very different quality to Robinson’s writing as it gradually spirals out of control and sprinkles in a healthy dose on honest self-reflection. It’s also incredibly not safe for work (NSFW), so if you’re sensitive towards that stuff, I’d get out now. For everyone else, let’s break down what makes Airboy a modern-day masterpiece.

From the very outset it’s made clear Airboy isn’t going to be a standard comic. The premise involves James Robinson being asked to relaunch a new Airboy series for Image. Robinson is reluctant, however, and decides to team up with artist Greg Hinkle for some inspiration. While so far it may seem quite normal and a typical “writer writes about himself” story, things quickly go off the rails in a perfectly paced descent into madness that blurs fact and fiction. I don’t want to spoil too much as being surprised by the constant depths the writer/artists combo sink to is part of the fun, but I think the story particularly hooked me when Robinson suggested they get some cocaine. There’s a lot of vulgarity on display, all of which is perfectly used and is absolutely hilarious. I was frequently taken aback by what I was witnessing, as it’s not something you expect from Robinson. But it works so well.

The book isn’t just crude humour or anything like that, though; it’s a very poignant reflection from one of the industry’s heavy hitters on where his career is at. This is set during the later end of Robinson’s time at DC, and anyone who follows comics will remember some pretty heavy criticism thrown his way due to books like Cry For Justice. Details like this lend the comic a sad deal of honesty. Robinson isn’t using this as a vanity project to celebrate his career or even a two-dimensional, self-deprecating laugh at himself; it’s a touching examination of the comic industry and Robinson’s place in it… with a lot of sex, drugs, and alcohol along the way. It’s a very different style to a lot of Robinson’s recent work, but you can definitely feel his heart and passion put into these pages. It’s without a doubt the strongest I’ve ever seen him.

What makes the comic work so well and gives it a lot of its style is artist Greg Hinkle. His art manages to portray both a grounded look, perfectly fitting the real world setting, but also carries quite an exaggerated, cartoonish quality that fits with the radical portrayals of the creators in the book. Much like the writing, it blurs the line between fact and fiction by at one moment making the look feel very real and contemporary, and then the next has a surreal quality with darker colours representing the influence of heavy drug use. Even the panels start to sway and become disorientating to look at, capturing the chaos on page. I also have to wonder how Hinkle feels having to draw some of the more graphic material towards the comics end, particularly his own genitals (I warned you this was NSFW, don’t look at me like that).

If it isn’t already obvious, I absolutely loved this book. It’s a very unique take on this sort of story, both touching, funny, and completely vulgar. There are a few pre-requisites before picking this up though; first, and most obviously, the level of vulgarity will be a hard sell for some people, so more sensitive people need not apply. Secondly, there’s a definitely requirement of prior knowledge of the comics industry to make this work. A lot of what I found to be the funniest jokes were based on my knowledge of the creators they were referencing, and a lot of the emotional weight comes from being familiar with Robinson’s career. If you are a fan of either of this things though, then I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s an absolutely insane ride that has a lot of heart to it. The complete 180 turn in the final page also ensures I’ll be back for more next month. I want to see how far this rabbit hole goes.