Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's small press review column
Wow, this graphic novel is good. I mean, even leaving aside the story, which is fun and charming and totally wonderful for the all-ages crowd, Oak is good.
Oak is a fantasy adventure tale full of talking snakes, living clouds, talking trees, one-armed ghostly warrior women who dress like men, and a brave, nameless orphan boy at the center of it all. It's all told with a wonderfully vivid energy, a spark of life and delight of creation that is shown in every lovingly-drawn panel. This may be an all-ages story, but it's all-ages in the best meaning of the term: joyful, clever and surprising. Oak does ramble and wander at times, moving too fast through some storylines and not giving enough depth to others, but those are the classic signs of a young storyteller who's just starting to find his pace.
Any weaknesses in the plot are forgiven by two things: first, that none of that matters. The copious charm of this fantasy adventure overwhelms any plot holes or gaps. And secondly, any weaknesses are forgiven because Max Badger's storytelling chops are tremendous.
Badger has a vivid storytelling ability to match his outstanding attention to detail, two attributes that are hard to teach but which are on display throughout this lovely hardcover book. Because of the wonderful way that Badger moves the reader's eye through the page, he brings his story to life in a way that doesn't just engage the reader, but also gets the reader invested and intrigued. We discover the events in this story just as the characters do, with a stable basis in storytelling and a page design that feels inviting. I love how the first three panels in the page above set the stage for everything that happens further on in the story, giving the reader a basis in the story's events before the bottom drops out under our main character.
Badger is great at creating a sense of space and movement in his comics. In the sequence above Badger does a wonderful job with forced perspective in panel one, effectively preparing readers for the sequence to follow by giving readers a clear object to focus our eyes on, with the mysterious warrior then receiving more drama in the story because there's a feeling of danger in the proximity and power of the moment.
Impressively, Badger created every bit of this comic without the use of computers or xeroxes. Every pen-line in it was created by hand without computers or Xeroxes, even when Badger painstakingly made sure that every rock and boulder in certain scenes was drawn consistently from panel to panel. That helps give Oak a sense of earning its power, of how all the meticulous attention to detail helps Badger earn a scene like the one shown above. Since so much effort has gone into the telling of this story, everything in it has a hand-earned feeling of worthiness, like an old-school fantasy novel come vividly to life.
Oak is definitely flawed – I was frustrated by how awkwardly Badger drew the size difference between kids and adults; his characters' dewy, manga-influenced eyes didn't seem a good fit for the story; there's a bit of ramble and wander to the story rather than an intense forward thrust. But even for all those flaws, Badger creates a tremendously impressive graphic novel. In a few years we'll look back on Oak as the first work by a great comics creator. Buy a copy and get bragging rights now.
– Jason Sacks
Order Oak here.
(Justin Zimmerman / Mike Lawrence / Various)
A few months ago I reviewed an issue of Other Worlds, Justin Zimmerman's ongoing anthology comic that depicts the "other worlds" in Zimmerman's imagination. At that point I enjoyed the comic I read but was confused about why a non-sensationalized story of existential pain was included as part of a comic that was theoretically devoted to science fiction. Recently Justin gave me a copy of a graphic novel collection of stories from the comic, and I'm not quite so confused.
See, Other Worlds is one of those anthology comics that come straight from the brain of one idiosyncratic creator. It brings the reader through all kinds of different worlds – an incredibly violent hunt for frogs, or a parable about an otherworldly warrior woman; a sweet piece about living with the loss of a loved one and the shocking tale of a man who dies in an enigmatic way, and much, much more – a full universe of ideas as created by Justin Zimmerman.
You can get a sense of what Zimmerman and friends are creating in this book from their promotional video, which is full of diversity in artists and narratives, along with a sense of a creator probing and exploring, trying out new ideas. Some of the pieces are stronger or weaker than others, either due to the artist or the story's conception, but that's all good because we have so many to enjoy.
Maybe the most intense and intriguingly-told comic in Other Worlds is "The Mix", the tale of a schoolbus hostage drama drawn in a fascinating abstract style by Tym Kodek. Zimmerman and Kodek try for, and pretty much achieve, a poetic approach to a terrible situation, a fascinating introspective take on something that could have been thoroughly sensationalistic in the hands of other creators.
I enjoyed how our lead character is flawed, constantly fighting the voices inside his own head, drawn in a vivid and wonderful way by Kodek.
Maybe because this is written on Veteran's Day weekend, my favorite story in this book is probably "Flyer", a weird World War I tale of a girl with a jetpack sent to fight in the war. Mike Lawrence draws the hell out of this one, creating vivid details of every aspect of the world that Zimmerman creates, from a detailed view of the foxholes to the wonderful reflection of an enemy biplane in the girl's eyes.
Because it's so diverse, Other Worlds is a different sort of anthology from many others, but it's all unified by the most important attribute: a passionate creator bringing his own unique ideas down onto paper.
– Jason Sacks
Order Other Worlds from the Bricker-Down website.