Coin Operated Boy

By | Sunday, June 08, 2008 4 comments
I have to admit that this review is a bit complicated for me. I want to, as I always try to do, review Coin Operated Boy on its own merits, free from prejudice of the creators. But, as I'll explain shortly, I'm finding that somewhat difficult due to what strikes me as a questionable origin.

The comic is by Steve Prouse, Rob Grabe, Mia Paluzzi, and Matt Razzano and published by Arcana. The storyline is fairly straightforward: Genesis, a young woman fed up with dating, creates a clockwork man who loves her unconditionally. The story tells of some of the pitfalls of such an approach, and ends up with the automaton's head knocked off and a flesh and blood man showing his true love to the woman.

Aside from the conceit that Genesis creates the mechanical man in her apartment on a whim over the course of a week, the story flows reasonably well and makes sense. The storytelling is serviceable, but the changing art styles was a little disruptive. It tells it's story in 32 pages, and there's nothing else to follow up on. No mega crossovers, no epilogues, no next issue. It's a fairly quick read, and a free one if you download it from Wowio so I can't complain about that.

But here's why I have trouble recommending it: the story is a unacknowledged rip-off of the song "Coin Operated Boy" by the Dresden Dolls from a few years earlier. Now, if it were just the title, I might chalk that up to coincidence, but there were a few lines of dialogue that tell me otherwise.

In the comic, we find: "I just want love without complications." In the song, we have the line: "Love without complications galore." Both the song and the comic make direct references to ensuring the clockwork boy is waterproof: "I can even take him in the bath" versus "I can take him in the bath." The song refers to the creation as "my new boy anvil" whereas the comic uses "my boy anvil!" And, while not quite so direct a reference, I couldn't help but think of the song's line "his pretty coin operated voice" when I read the comic's line "I'm glad I put that voice box in you."

Now, the comic, to be fair, ends the story differently with the destruction of the creature after Genesis realizes the error of her thinking. There's a very clear and direct moral to this story. In the Dresden Dolls' song, however, the protagonist is only hinted at just coming to that realization -- the video for the song ends with the coin operated boy cuddling the seemingly disinterested singer Amanda Palmer in bed. The song's moral, if it could be deciphered to have one, is decidedly more ambiguous and leaves judgment up to the audience. And it's primarily because of that why I think the song is ultimately more critically successful.

There's just enough differences to show that the comic is not simply an adaptation of the song, but I found the story impossible to read without referring back to the song repeatedly. And while I certainly don't have a problem with using others' creations to inspire one's own work, that such a direct reference goes uncredited seems to me very disingenuous at best. If you're going to shell out a few bucks for a story about a coin operated boy, I think you'd be better served going over to iTunes.
Newer Post Older Post Home


Anonymous said...

coin operated boy
all the other real ones that i destroy
cannot hold a candle to my new boy and i'll
never let him go
and i'll never be alone
not with my coin operated boy......

Anonymous said...

I gotta say, since I like the song in the first place, it's not a problem for me that the comic is a bit of an homage. Some people have more of a problem with that I guess, but I don't find it a deal-breaker.

What are the chances the references to the lyrics are meant as the acknowledgment of the origin of the story?

It could be that the authors wanted to cleverly hint at their inspiration rather than directly acknowledge it. I'm not saying that this was a wise decision, but if you know the song, it's rather obvious that the comic was inspired by it, especially since it include nearly direct quotations from it.

Alternatively, it may be that they wanted to more directly mention the song, but the Dresden Dolls said no or wanted licensing fees. Again, this is pure speculation, and I'm not saying it would be the right thing to do.

The references to the song are so direct, they must be intentional, and it's hard to imagine the authors thought nobody would notice.

Also, thanks for the review! I was wondering if this was worth picking up, and this definitely helps inform my decision.