Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's small press review column
(Allan Xia / Cory Mathis / Damon Keen / Sheehan Brothers / Rachel Royale / Michel Mulipola / Ned Wenlock / James Squires / Adrian Kinnaird / Mukpuddy)
I love to sample. Beers, chocolate, ice cream, music, excerpts, trailers, sound bites, and the like. You know, you get to try all sorts of new experiences without having to fully commit. Nothing wrong with trying before you start buying, amirite? Maybe that's why I like anthologies so much, as you encounter new voices, see new visions, be set assail on new seas, without having to invest your full self to the experience. I mean, when was the last time you sat down and read the work of 10 different cartoonists from New Zealand?
I rest my case.
Faction #2 is the second anthology released by Three Bad Monkeys and once again it fulfills its mission to: “show off the diverse range of comic talent that exists in New Zealand and celebrate the extraordinary new direction that comics have been taking in the past years.” Diversity is certainly the name of the game here as the material presented in its 80 or so pages runs the gamut from science-fiction to fantasy, thick painted panels juxtaposed with lightly inked expressions, dead seriousness contrasted with the oddly goofy. As my grandmother used to say, “It's got a little something for everyone,” some stronger than others, but all worth a sample.
Of particular note is “Ectype” by Damon Keen. This is the longest story in the collection and is also one of the more innovative and thematically resonate pieces I've read in awhile. Washed in inky blacks and soft shades of ocher, this story of space exploration pursues questions of the intersection between identity and science in a manner I just haven't encountered before. Typically, stories that follow the adventures of individuals who are “the first to discover” often follow a particular path and carry with them a certain amount of comfortable expectation. While Keen incorporates much of the trope in his story, he also expands the ideas to epic proportions. I kept being surprised by this work, page after page, and I was left with a sense of having met something profound by the end.
Another standout selection in Faction #2 is “A Day At The Races” by The Sheehan Brothers. This shorter piece serves as a teaser of something much grander in the works. In six pages we're introduced to “The Roaring Boys and Friends” who “will take themselves out to The Edge.” I'm reminded of Ron Wimberly's Prince of Cats spun off into an alternative dimensional outback. There's a bike race out to the Big Nothing. Each participant is a particular type of quasi-wonk adventurer sort and I was instantly fascinated with all of these characters. There needs to be more. The sample had me salivating.
Editors Damon Keen and Amie Maxwell are doing an amazing job of curating this anthology. They say that their “main focus is on great art and great storytelling.” They understand that these things are found in all sorts of different genres and styles. So far the Faction anthologies have proven this. Kiwi comic creators have a grand champion in this series, and, if you are like me and enjoy being able to sample some amazing work, pick up a copy now.
– Daniel Elkin
Faction #2 is available directly from these guys.
Tales of Fantasy #63
The only real difference between a cartoonist and someone who loves comics is persistence. Pretty much all of us created comics when we were kids, imagining our own super-heroes and villains who would have endless battles with each other for whatever arbitrary reasons our nine-year-old minds could conjure up. I know I filled notebooks with my ideas for the Strong Comics Group during the latter half of elementary school, coming up with characters that were absurdly derivative of the Hulk (always the Hulk for me – I really went crazy for that idea of the small man made into an angry giant), but after awhile my vanity or laziness or lack of friends to read that stuff made me put away the pencils and just enjoy comics as a reader.
Most of us probably did that, put away the crayons and pencils that our moms and dads gave us and moved on to other pursuits. But the real cartoonists didn't do that. The men and women who dedicated a lifetime to drawing would never give up their endeavors in art.
Tales of Fantasy #63 explores Larry Johnson's lifelong love of comics art. This wonderful zine is devoted to his creation Zooy, an odd mutated Earthman (shown on that cover above) for whom Larry has been creating stories since the fifth grade, 50 years ago.
This issue starts out with a 20-page lead story featuring Zooy and his friends dealing with some strange electric creatures that kidnap women and seem to have nefarious motives. But since this is a comic by Larry Johnson, things don't go quite the way that one might expect at first glance and the tale becomes deeper in surprising ways that involve lifelong friendships, strange electrical fields and even the ghostly figure of a saint who appears to the people to push them in their work.
It's a beguilingly complex tale despite the relatively simplistic artwork. Johnson gives readers a good and intriguing look at Zooy, smart, steadfast and insightful, as he leads the action. But Johnson also brings in interesting subplots about the double-edged sword of scientific achievement and the importance of a deity, lending this piece a gravitas that you might not expect from the simple line drawing on the cover.
Just as captivating as the lead story, though, is all the backmatter that Johnson includes in this issue. Just like a long set of DVD bonus features for a movie that you've never heard of, these pieces give depth and context to the paper life of Zooy and the artistic life of Johnson. It's fascinating to read how Zooy and his supporting characters evolved as Johnson grew older, to read about the human Zooy and his complicated love life (which Johnson created in his teen years) and all of his amazing continuity between the stories – he mentions in one of his essays that something he wrote at age 17 would refer back to a comic he wrote and drew when he was 10!
Just as tantalizing is all the art that Johnson includes from the original comics. It's crude, to be sure, or maybe unpolished is a better word, but all of what he presents enriches the experience of reading these comics and fills me with nostalgia for the good old days of Strong Comics. To top it off Johnson presents a story that he created when he was 10 that, sure, reads like the work of a ten-year-old but still gives depth to the whole experience.
I've been reading Larry Johnson's minicomics for the better part of a decade now. This zine shows me why I keep coming back: because Larry Johnson is a committed cartoonist who has spent his life presenting comics that are important to him.
– Jason Sacks
Order Tales of Fantasy from Larry's website.