Digital Ash is Comics Bulletin's roundup of non-paper comics — webcomics, online shorts, digital-first releases. Sequential art made of ones and zeroes. Some of it you can read for free, others you gotta to buy.
(James Harvey; Blank Slate)
A comic that pretty much blew everybody's mind when it went live on Blank Slate's website last week, James Harvey's single-issue novella Masterplasty serves as a prelude to his 2014 graphic novel Zygote and takes place in a world where scientists have discovered a piece of cartilage in the brain that, when manipulated, transforms the physical attributes of a human being. Meteoric rises and Kanye West references ensue.
Obviously Masterplasty plays with ideas of plastic surgery and how enticing it is to many to change one's looks, especially if nobody has to cut your face open to do so, but it's also impeccably illustrated by Harvey in ways that recall the hyper futuristic urbanity of Paul Pope and the anime horror of Katsuhiro Otomo — no surprise on the latter since Harvey is the spearhead of the amazing Bartkira project. There's also a fusion of "slice of life" and absurdism that recalls the wackier parts of Daniel Clowes, making for the sort of comic that courts the art-comix crowd as well as the alt-rock readers whose idea of outré is The Manhattan Projects.
This may be a stupid thing to say as the first review in a column about digital comics that I spearheaded, but the coloring methods Harvey uses makes me wish this was a physical release — it's the sort of work that begs to be on paper. I suppose we'll have to wait for Zygote to debut to see what that's like.
– Danny Djeljosevic
OH HEY LOGAN WROTE ABOUT MASTERPLASTY TOO:
Given that the story is about beauty, it's fitting that Masterplasty, a preview comic for James Harvey's (responsible for this, this and and for coordinating the collaborative comic project Bartkira) upcoming graphic novel Zygote has an all-consuming focus on style. The plot isn't a lot more than an excuse to draw exaggerated human figures and use glowy, alien, primary colors.
I'm not complaining. Masterplasty looks fucking crazy and it's awesome. Harvey creates this world that blends meta-weirdness of Casanova with the disturbing body horror of Black Hole into a genuinely creepy comic, which is then made farcical by the unlikable, shallow protagonist and the unlikable, shallow world he lives in. Masterplasty is all over the place. The storytelling is similarly experimental. Early in the story, Harvey uses a thin panel of a dark blue sky and pitch black power lines as a kind of establishing shot you don't even learn is an establishing shot until the next page. Earlier still, there's a page where the words at the very top of the huge, detailed, first panel lead your eye across the top of the panel, in the tiny second panel, spitting in the face of anything any art teacher will ever tell you about how line of action is supposed to work. I'm not sure it was a good idea to cause the reader to completely skip looking at that page (or forcing the reader to go back and look at it), but it is interesting. It's that sort of experimental strangeness that makes Masterplasty worth reading.
– Logan Beaver
Read Masterplasty for free at Blank Slate Books.
The Fez #1
(Roger Langridge; Fred Press)
Operating somewhere in between comics and gothic children's lit, the work of Edward Gorey remains deservedly beloved by people in the know of all ages. But unlike his peer Roald Dahl, Gorey is oddly underrepresented in terms of current emulators and followers, with Neil Gaiman's Coraline and the curious marketing figure Emily the Strange standing out as a few of the only clear descendants of Gorey. Not to undermine the accomplishments of those two, but Roger Langridge's minicomic The Fez, now available through comiXology's excellent Submit program, is one of the more remarkable Gorey influenced creations to appear in some time.
Though Langridge debuted it at Ireland's 2D Festival in May and has been selling it for a pound on his site, Submit provides The Fez with perhaps its biggest platform and highest visibility. A mixture of Mad gags and Gorey-like design and writing, The Fez is a unique creation that has fun with the form and aesthetics of cartooning, allowing it to function equally well as a 12 page morsel of entertainment and a clever dissection of how comics work. Langridge does dual duties as writer and artist and though the work is criminally short, he makes the world of The Fez feel incredibly vivid and substantial, which is especially important given the promise it makes at the end to deliver more.
Each section of the minicomic utilizes a different style depending on the gag and the tone. The issue opens with a more classic cartoon strip presentation of The Fez's enemies, before moving to a clearer distillation of Gorey in the rhyming "The Man Who Wasn't There" and ending with a silent sequence depicting The Fez slipping into poverty thanks to the "Vestige in a Bottle." These are quick, expertly plotted and executed shorts that show off Langridge's masterful ability to communicate so much with so little. It may just be a teaser before Langridge's full Fez work debuts, but it's a great standalone piece that showcases Langridge's handle on Gorey's true unsung legacy: telling entire, intricate stories in stark single images.
– Nick Hanover
Buy The Fez #1 from ComiXology.
A Twelve Minute Revolution in Just Reading
(Darren Hupke, Vincent Tang)
Here's the deal — At 7:30 Lukas is shot. His experiment incomplete. By 7:42, there will be a revolution. A Twelve Minute Revolution in Just Reading was Darren Hupke and Vincent Tang's Kickstarter darling and now it's available on Comixology. It's a quick six-page story about a Nazi scientist who, as he comes to the end of some sort of project, is pierced by a bullet. He spends the rest of the comic not only trying to see his work to fruition, but also getting revenge on whoever shot him, all before he dies, all in twelve minutes.
Sounds simple enough, right? It's got that Kiefer Sutherland kind of thing going on, maybe. Perhaps you're rolling your eyes, thinking to yourself, "Haven't I seen this all before?"
But this little book has a kicker of an ending that gives you the big old middle finger, wags it in front of your eyes for a moment, and then laughs and laughs and laughs at the look on your face. Hupke pulls off this trick effortlessly and with an enormous amount of glee, signaling that not only does he know what he is doing, but he's having the time of his life doing it.
What really sets this little book apart from other mind-fuckery type comics, though, is the art of Vincent Tang. Blacks and whites and gray tones are his playground, while dramatic splashes of red and yellow blast off his pages. There is a freneticism about Tang's line work that adds a soundtrack to the beats of Hupke's writing. And it's a dubstep operatic jamboree hootenanny, if you ask me. Your feet will be bleeding by the end of the night. IN A GOOD WAY!
I had no idea what to expect when I started in on this digital loop. To be honest, I was drawn in by the title alone. What I got, though, was that feeling you get when you watch your tired old dog go after a squirrel, racing across the park. It's that exuberance and rejuvenation that infuses your own tired old mojo. It's an energy drink to slate your thirst for something new in comics.
– Daniel Elkin
Check out A Twelve Minute Revolution in Just Reading at ComiXology. When you do, though, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes.
XOXO: A Gossip Girl Tribute
(Robin McConnell, Maré Odomo, Brandon Graham, Sean T. Collins, Dan White, Warren Craghead, Jacob Ferguson, Benjamin Marra, Mike Myhre, Jen Vaughn)
Chances are this will simply be vexing to many readers — why did a bunch of talented comics folk make a comic book based on Gossip Girl? I dunno, because it's mad entertaining and full of fucking and backstabbing and Kristen Bell narration? Man, if you're even asking that question you might be on the wrong website.
Edited by Robin McConnell of Inkstuds, XOXO is a short endeavor featuring a handful of lovely pinups and a few short stories that perfectly appeal to people who like both Gossip Girl and Benjamin Marra (aka "just me"). You get Sean T. Collins ("Hottest Chick in the Game") and Dan White creating an origin for Chuck Bass (the Lex Luther of the Upper East Side) told through very effective four-panel comic strips while Jacob Ferguson illustrates a funny two-pager that perfectly sums up a lot of the tropes of Gossip Girl. Both have fun with the source material without
Meanwhile, Marra's crinkly eraser-marked scans comprising "Capri Days Capri Nights" resembles a synthesis of the adventures of Serena van der Woodsen and that whole Europe sequence in Roger Avary's Rules of Attraction — all hurriedly illustrated on printer paper. It's teenage satire with gigantic tits.
While it seems like it'd be better served as cheap and cheaply made print edition, even in its digital form XOXO is the kind of quick-and-dirty anthology that doesn't overstay its welcome.
– Danny Djeljosevic
Read XOXO: A Gossip Girl Tribute at Study Group.
Reading Achewood from the Beginning — Part One
I've written about Achewood before, as part of a piece about the Best Online Comics of of 2012 that many deemed inappropriate because Chris Onstad barely managed to update the thing a dozen times in that year, but they were long updates and better than most things I paid for, so there we were. But now I'm going back and reading it all from the beginning so I'm going to write about that from time to time.
Because Achewood wasn't A Thing when it began, a lot of the things we expect from the strip is strangely absent — like Ray Smuckles, who makes his first appearance like three months in, like some absurdist Popeye to Achewood's Thimble Theatre. It's a lot more normal than you'd think, as Onstad makes reference to his shortcomings ("Couldn't think of a punchline today, so fuck it.") and the strip's more about Téodor and Lyle, which seems unthinkable when even the recent animation test footage focuses on Ray and Roast Beef.
Good thing Phillipe is around and pretty much fully formed from the get-go — he's five.
– Danny Djeljosevic
Read Achewood. Just read it.