One of the very great things about the small press is that it allows creators to explore ideas and characters over the years. As the creators’ lives evolve and change, so too do their characters.
That’s one of the most fun aspects of Larry Johnson’s Tales of Fantasy. I’ve been reading his self-published zine for about four or five years now, and have enjoyed getting to continually learn about Larry’s characters, from the mysterious Madame Boogala to the closest thing that ToF has to a conventional hero, Lew Brown.
Lew Brown works as a reporter for a newsmagazine called View, which gives him freedom to explore the supernatural. But that’s just the hook, just the way that Lew gets his freedom. Because Lew is continually learning the surprising secrets that his family holds. In a previous issue Lew learned that his grandfather was a writer of an Edgar Rice Burroughs style book called Jungle Tales of Venus, and in another story discovered that he had a bother who he had never met.
ToF #48 shows Lew meeting that brother, only to find him trapped by some of the most bizarre and entertaining circumstances imaginable. The story featured Venusians and UFOs and bizarre government conspiracies – all recipes for a story to jump the shark into sheer lunacy. But under the able control of Larry Johnson, the story stays interesting and provides an interesting insight into the life of his lead character.
As Larry explores in a backup essay, Lew Brown has been appearing in Tales of Fantasy for 25 years. At first he was a bit of a cipher, but as the character has lived on in the pages of this zine, he’s grown and evolved into much more of a three-dimensional man. As a reader that is a really rewarding experience, and it’s clear that the experience is even more rewarding for Larry. As he says, “the more time you spend with someone, the more you get to know him, don’t you think?”
That comment is a perfect fit for Larry’s zine in general. The more time I get to spend in the ToF universe, the more I get to appreciate the characters and their world. They become three-dimensional. I start caring more and more about them, to the point where, as in this issue, I really found myself caring about Lew’s quest to meet and save his brother from his bizarre fate.
Larry draws his own stories, and it’s not the slickest comic art you’ve ever seen. But he has a great sense of storytelling. Larry’s stories really move across the page; he continually makes interesting and clever decisions in the way that he lays out and designs his pages.
Tales of Fantasy is always a thoroughly entertaining package, and the more I read of Larry Johnson’s work, the more I enjoy it.
Ordering information for this zine is available at the Larry Johnson Artist site.