That’s not to suggest that the 45 pieces are all fun, lighthearted reads, though a reader opening this book with its fair share of comics may expect such. Instead, there are the complexities of relationships, lonely winter nights, brothers becoming distant, and mostly-true motorcycle wrecks. The very idea behind Flashed, however, is a fun one. After one piece is obtained—a story or comic—another writer responds, and then another responds to that, working like a game of telephone. By the end, the third writer hasn’t read the first piece and only has the link in the middle off which to base their story, a fresh take on the exquisite corpse method.
Some of these trios end up working a little more cohesively than others, clear connections seen between the three, and some completely stray from the original story to the point where the elements of the first are lost by the last, like the set “Venus and Mars.” What starts out as a two-page comic about loss transforms into a final comic that reimagines two of the writers as kinky characters, a triptych that ends up working better as a diptych. But that’s not a bad thing. We’re able to watch, in compartmentalized spaces, the ways writers interpret the work of others, and how they then choose to execute their own.
After reading stories that make it hard to find the start point, the stories that work together cohesively become even more enjoyable, like “Brontë.” “Brontë” features Rachel Cantor’s “Lives of the Poets, Pg. 85,” a paneled text piece looking at the Brontë sisters during Emily’s death, while Ken Nash draws the scene in a modern office setting in “Attrition.” Finally, in “Maybe She Has a Sister” by Rob Walker, we’re given an outside perspective from a man who meets Emily and calls her office phone that we saw ringing in “Attrition,” and that echoes the dogs barking in Cantor’s piece. The Brontë sisters are reimagined and modernized, and readers can pick out the elements that stay the same throughout. Each piece is creative on its own, in their own, different ways, but they somehow meld perfectly.
Steve Almond, David Lasky, and Pamela Painter’s “Shell Shocked” works just as well as a collection, stop signs finding their way into all three stories. In “Leviathan,” Travis Holland, Brendan Leach, and Tara L. Masih return to an image of a whale beneath a lone, small swimmer. The “Frozen” set by John Porcellino, Alan Gilbert, and Brian Biggs all make use of minimalism in their winter-time settings, perfectly encapsulating the hollow feelings of cold and loneliness. Being able to see these connections—sometimes through images, sometimes through keywords—draws readers in. It requires engagement and stirs up imagination while giving an inside look into the mind of the writers.
Another cool aspect of Flashed is that we’re able to see what the writers think about their collaboration. Each piece ends with blurbs from at least two of the writers, letting us see inside the process. At the end of “Cheating,” Nick Bertozzi shows his humor while taking a deeper look at his own writing: “Reading the three stories together, I see how courageous the writers are—and how scared I am of portraying desire in a serious, nuanced way,” and Zoe Zolbrod shows her creative process after reading Bertozzi’s piece:
My initial response to ‘Muscled Man and Mysteriosa’ was a sort of gendered annoyance. What kind of dumb asshole uses underwear labels as an excuse to fuck around on his girl? I couldn’t figure out where to go with it—until I combined the idea of swapping the gender with the notion of clothes relating coincidental messages.Even the way the writers approach their blurbs is as unique as the writing and illustration they bring to the table, and it becomes almost just as interesting as their stories.
Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson have put their combined experience of writing and comics into their careful selection of the writing within Flashed, successfully creating a fun, exciting anthology. A reader doesn’t need to have experience in flash fiction or comics to be able to read and enjoy Flashed, but will likely finish the book with a new love for both. An intimate study in form and process, Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose lends fresh insights into the ways different forms and different styles of art and writing are able to inspire.