Tiny Pages Made of Ashes 3/8/2013: Tip Your Kiwi Comics Creator

A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Bill Janzen, Jamil Scalese


Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's roundup of small press comics reviews.


Faction 1 Kiwi Comic Anthology

(Ned Wenlock, Ant Sang, Damon Keen, Christian Pearce, Jonathan King, Ralphi, Nani Mahal, Czepta, Matt Emery, Karl Wills, Mark Holland, Roger Langridge, Tim Gibson, Mukpuddy; 3 Bad Monkeys)




New Zealand comic book creators are making their presence known and everyone should celebrate that fact. The folks at 3 Bad Monkeys are, and their crowd-funded anthology Faction shows us why. Their mission statement seems to be pretty straightforward: "We want to show off the beautiful work that is being produced in New Zealand to a wider audience, as well as helping to inspire a new generation of kiwi comic artists and writers."

This anthology features the work of fourteen New Zealand comics creators, some of which are mind-blowingly original and all have whet my appetite for more. Of the fourteen, three artists featured in Faction 1 are of particular note.



First is Damon Keen's One Giant Leap. This nine page story of an astronaut in trouble is told in nearly 70 wordless panels that grip the reader tightly in its unfolding. Keen is a master of expression and pacing. His layout functions smoothly, utilizing perspective and closure with a deft hand, relying on the audience to provide the emotional content, tapping in to our own sense of panic, pleasure, and pathos. This short piece is comics storytelling revved high, and I would love to see Keen try his hand at a full book as I have a feeling it would be truly something to behold.



The next standout story is Do You Want To Talk About It? by Matt and Sam Emery. This four pager starts off one way and ends in a completely different place. It is in this shift that it resonates so powerfully and is what makes it so great. The Emerys create what appears to be a robot apocalypse story, but then bring it back to our world, and, in the last panel, show us it is really about all of us. It is a profoundly touching human moment encapsulated in the most unexpected place.



Finally, there is my absolute favorite piece in Faction, Bookish by Jonathan King. This eight page detective story is like nothing I've read before, though it has many echoes of tales familiar. With a staccato-like rhythm, King's Tintin-esque panels unfold a narrative that speaks to the power of books, the rituals of reading, and the stories of our lives. There is a kind of untarnished flatness to both King's art and writing that works perfectly here. It is one of the better short comics I've read in some time.

While not all the pieces in Faction are at this high level, the opportunity to see some great new comic book creators should not be missed. Especially since the folks at 3 Bad Monkeys are giving it away for free.

- Daniel Elkin

The full anthology can be downloaded from the Faction website, or, you could help the guys recover some of their costs by purchasing a print copy.


Challenger #1

(Kristopher Waddell, Veronica Fish, Stephane de Caneva; Mirror Comics)



The best way I can think to describe Challenger is this: picture Knight Rider if it had been made as a superhero comic, with a female mechanic instead of Michael Knight... and there's a cyborg guy for some reason. Okay, so Knight Rider's not the best comparison, except that it all centers around a cool, black car that can talk.



Challenger #1 has a number of weaknesses but overall makes a strong showing. Overall the art is very appealing, but of a style that's somewhat plain. So while there is an energy to it and a good use of angles and distances, there are many backgrounds that aren't much more than just color splashes. The lack of detail is just as noticeable on the characters as they usually look fine, but sometimes lose detail to the point where their faces are little more than dots for eyes. The color is a real saving grace for this issue. Colorist Stephane de Caneva saves a lot panels and pages that could have seemed terribly plain with good use of color, effects and lighting. 



The writing similarly is kind of simple yet overall appealing. Our main character Mikaela is a mechanic in the wrong part of town who doesn't exactly fit the definition of "hero". In this first issue a mysterious cyborg is chased down while driving one sweet car. During the action he flees and is separated from his car which Mikaela decides she might make some much needed cash from. Little does she know both the cyborg and his pursuers will both be back for the car, or rather the formula that happens to be in it. 



Challenger #1 can be bought directly from Mirror Comics for about $7 shipped to your home or $2 for a digital copy. They're reasonable prices for an independent studio. It's a fairly basic comic with fairly standard artwork and writing, but if you're looking for something different from the standard Marvel and DC fare this will do the job and isn't a bad first issue. But honestly, go for the $2 version because I can't imagine that I wouldn't be kicking myself if I'd spent $7 on it. 

- Bill Janzen

Find out more about Challenger at Mirror Comics.


R-Comics Presents... Armageddon Chapters 1 & 2

(Rodney Roger , Andres Quezada Peña, Hernane Lopez Chavez Jr., Darker Sho, Mike Gallagher, James Isarelson; R-Comics)



Two stories, two characters, two markedly different pieces of art, but the same problems.

That's how I can best ease into a review of the anthology (flagship?) title of new publisher R-Comics. They're rolling out a full wheelbarrow of fresh titles (we even reviewed on a few weeks ago) and are certainly ambitious in the creation of new comics. 

I used the analogy of a wheelbarrow because that tool requires a steady hand and eye on the immediate path ahead. If you look too forward you're bound to topple over and lose your entire haul. In a slightly meandering, unfocused opening, Anthony Zacari, a person who does not list his affiliation with the company, puts forth a vague mission statement. What's conveyed is that R-Comics Presents... Armageddon will serve as a place for short, interconnecting stories that are at the center of the R-Comics line, and hold on to your hat, there's a crossover a comin'!

First up is Chapter 1, a tale following a violent costumed individual investigating the appearance of demon types in a nearby city. Much of the comic feature close ups and action scenes, and the result leaves little room for context. Our protagonist drops hints about his origin and current condition, but specifics are hard to come by because writer Rodney Roger embeds the story with digressive, unspecific details about the world. The main purpose here is mythology building, but the main character isn't even given a name. (The R-Comics website lists his name as "Styx", but I can't find that information in the comic itself.)



Andres Quezada Peña provides high energy and a gothic tone that really carries the piece. The Spawn-looking main character slays bad guys and it looks very professional and polished. Peña is a growing artist, so some anatomy looks a little off and the framing of the panels could benefit from more long shots and wide angles, but the talent is definitely there. The page layouts are dynamic, yet simple, and as a whole the story isn't hard to look at. Colorist Hernane Lopez Chavez Jr. adds a lot of depth to the story too, balancing reds and blues which speak to the dual good/bad nature of the main character.

What holds Chapter 1 back from working is it the odd syntax that plagues the entire comic. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what's wrong with the wording Roger uses, but it might have something to do with prepositions. Furthering that critique, I think the problem stems from the overuse of clichés and the pratfalls of everyday speech. I want to present some examples to help explain. Here's the opening line:


"They say a storm is coming."


Nothing phonetically wrong with that I guess but who is "they"? And any time I hear "a storm is coming" I think about Nolan's Batman movies. Not a great association for a new brand/character. Here is another moment that made me reread, and not in the good way. After being attacked by creatures of the night the protagonist narrates:


"Not my typical thing to spend my Saturday evening..."


The idiomatic tone combined with sentence flow and the misuse of a noun or two really fouls up the story, and takes up space that could be occupied by actual character work. To round it off I present the story's last line of dialogue, spoken by a (even more) mysterious villain with a cool helmet:


"Our lord has plans with him.


Wait. They have plans, together? Like going to the club plans? Replace "with" with "for" and it makes more sense, but still, not terribly original.

Add to that, that the letterer (Darker Sho) uses a font dangerously similar to Comics Sans and the text aspects make the Chapter 1 of R-Comics Presents...Armageddon a tough go. The occasional use of white text over backgrounds with soft tones makes me question if anything in this Chapter 1 was proofread.



Chapter 2, or "Everything Taken," is a stark visual contrast to the opening salvo. Mike Gallagher covers both art and script, and his tale of a down-on--his-luck archeologist who finds a mysterious artifact has buds of potential. 

The choice of golden hues mixed with Gallagher's style produce a distinctive rustic feel and mixing in elements of the occult shows that the Armageddon mystery built within the R-Comics brand is intended to be multifaceted, an experience purposely told from different genres. Chapter 1 felt like a superhero story, this one like supernatural noir.

Gallagher does get a little sloppy on a few pages, and the pacing suffers, with character popping in and out of panels with little warning. However, it would be a fine piece it not for the fact that main character speaks every scintilla of his action as dialogue. He informs the reader of where's going and how he's feeling, not through captions or thought bubbles or conversations with other characters but by talking aloud to himself. It's really jarring, and like a thick sheet of ice totally prevents the reader from diving in. 

It was midway into Chapter 2 that I realized that I might be reading works from non-native English speakers. I've taught ESL off and on for the last few years and the peculiar pacing with slightly questionable word choices point to some overall sentence structure problems. The first story suffers from this more, but the second, with its awkward narration, lacks nuance and personality. 

Story first. Any time one of my creative endeavors get a little unruly or sprawling I try to focus on the immediate story. Are the characters likeable? Does this make sense? Where's the drama? What's at stake? Who loses? Is the reader engaged? In this book there is so much focus on world building and future crossovers that R-Comics forgot to focus on the first step. 

Look, you can tell there is fervor and excitement behind their plan -- I mean, they're putting together about a half dozen comics for publication. Yet, it's too easy to tell immediacy ruled over intimacy as there is little polish to the scripts of the two stories.

My advice to R-Comics and others out there embarking on a career in comics? Pump the breaks a bit and take a closer look at what you're doing. Or hire a new editor. 

- Jamil Scalese

You can pick up a copy of R-Comics Presents... Armageddon Chapters 1 & 2 at Indy Planet.

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