This new anthology comic has been receiving a lot of attention over the last few weeks, and for good reason. It's a delightfully fun, all-ages collection of fantasy tales. It's also an ambitious shared-world collection that is off to a promising start. And it's also a Kickstarter project that you can support by clicking that widget right over there to the right on this page.
I love it when stories drop me down in the a setting and force me to make sense of what I discover. I love it when I'm confused, required to work a little bit, forced to think about what everything means and how everything in a fictional universe interrelates with each other. In that way, I'm compelled to consider what I'm reading, to engage my mind as a means of adding depth to the shared space that I'm exploring.
The dozen or so writers and artists of Cartozia Tales know their fictional location really well, so well that characters seem happily in their natural environment in their various four-page stories, living their lives, having their quests and adventures and generally doing what they do while we readers observe their adventures. Those creators drop small hints about the world (and editor Isaac Cates also drops a few hints as well), but all those hints are tantalizing teases, facts that make me want to know more about the shared universe in this book. As Shawn Cheng reminds us above, ancient mysteries abound, but the answers are all around.
But none of this would work if the adventures weren't wonderfully engaging. I enjoyed nearly every tale in Cartozia Tales, and really treasured more than a few of them. Lucy Bellwood's "Above", for instance, is exciting and delightful, with smart storytelling and a very intriguing ending that implies a larger world than she presents in "Above".
Jen Vaughn's "Vagabond: Sylvia" is just a short anecdote in the midst of a much longer quest, but the anecdote hints at a fun complexity about Cartozia ("two tea leaves to keep yer boat here." "No two people can cross at the same time or the same way") and about the characters (a bear?!) while also seeming relatable. Her art is charming – her sea serpent is perfect for a plush toy – but also has a nice storytelling edge to it.
Every piece has a moment or setting that suggests a larger world that readers might want to explore. Isaac Cates and Mike Wenthe's tale (a page of which is above) almost goes too far into obscurity but the downer ending helps give the tale a feeling of significance. Lupi McGinty's "Tea with Tentacles" has a tight focus on two girl characters who act as if all the strangeness around them is normal – a great method for us to buy in to the realism of this shared creation. Sarah Beacon and Beckie Gautreau's "The Gardeners" uses pleasing storytelling and black-line art to imply a strange and intriguing background that again points toward real depth.
Each issue of Cartozia Tales will feature a core set of strips by a repertory set of writers and artists along with work by one or two guest-stars. Cartozia Tales #1 features guest appearances by Jon Lewis (with a fascinating strip about the town of Upside-town) and Dylan Horrocks. Horrock's story is especially delightful, with a fairy tale/Wizard of Oz vibe to it that will work well with readers of all ages. His seemingly simple linework is tremendously resonant and powerful. It's impossible not to become interested in Taco and the Windup Man as this little yarn progresses.
Cartozia Tales is the best of what all-ages comics can offer. I can imagine a book like this sparking the idea of shared universes with elementary and middle school kids, with each one creating their own contributions to a larger panoply (heck, my friends and I did that for years). And the characters in this book are highly relatable and very interesting.
But best of all, readers of all ages can find a lot to embrace in this new anthology. I enthusiastically supported their Kickstarter and am anxious to read the next nine issues. Hopefully only some of the mysteries will be solved by this talented staff of creators.