Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column
(John Pettis / Emily Zea / Chris Sloce / Kendrick Drews / Hannah Dodge / Hillary Lewis / Stephanie Mack / Rachel Brisendine / Francesca Lyn / Jessica Kusuma / Merv Thomas / Jamie Leonard)
Sometimes I wish I was still in college, especially when I receive comics like Alloy in the mail. The product of a special class, “Collaborating on Comics” that was taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, this interesting anthology contains six three-page stories co-created by a writer and artist who enrolled in the class, including Comics Bulletin’s own Francesca Lyn. Though the anthology is necessarily uneven, the passion of the artists and charm of the tales makes this well worth checking out.
Take the initial piece, for instance. “The Trials of Roger”, which is written by John Pettis and illustrated energetically by Emily Zea. It tells the tale of a middle-aged Harry Potter type with wife and kids, highlighted with bright and cleverly designed pages. “Pie Factory” is a nearly wordless collaboration by Chris Sloce and Kendrick Drews that starts predictably but breaks out of its panels by the end, demonstrating the exuberance of the creators.
Writer Hannah Dodge and artist Hillary Lewis deliver a delightful kid’s yarn with a sweetly hand-crafted feel that fits the subject matter well. “Locker Room Lolita” by Stephanie Mack and Rachel Bisendine may be the most distinctive tale in the book, a dense and manga-influenced piece, with very unique layouts, about a rather strange girl.
CB’s Francesca Lyn is next, with “Forest”, drawn by Jessica Kusuma that evinces a nicely empathetic use of blacks and some interesting character designs. Merv Thomas and Jamie Leonard wrap the comic up with “Monsters!”, a silent story, told with telling visual details, about friendship and love.
Although this comic doesn’t have a theme to it, there are several themes that seem to flow throughout each of these three-pagers. All of them have definitive conclusions to them, and just about every one ends with a kind of transcendence – birds flying out of panels, frightening creatures turned safe, a ride on a magical bird that takes a character away from the world that she lives in. I don’t think that was intended intentionally, so it gives an interesting picture of a general approach to the world.
All of the piece here also are very visually oriented, though each in different ways. Some are completely wordless while others are quite wordy, but all use words, or the lack of words, as a way to push their plot ahead and give the reader a unique experience.
Finally, all the stories take the effort to be creative on their own terms. Each of the artists has their own style, and it’s clear that they all were encouraged to be themselves in their work. That helps give this anthology a bit of the shock of the new, a feeling that we just don’t know what’s going to happen on the next page.
A book like Alloy represents the promise of the next generation of cartoonists: though their work is sometimes crude and can use more practice, the imaginations and inventiveness of these cartoonists is fully flowering. Get in on the ground floor with these talented young creators. You’ll be happy to have bragging rights in a few years when some of these cartoonists will be stars.
– Jason Sacks
Email John Pettis at VCU to order a copy of Alloy.
Catalyst Prime # 1
(Joelle Sellner / Lorenzo Lizana / Sai Studios / Carl Reed)
Lion’s Forge Studios has been slowly making a name for itself in the sci-fi genre, with great stories about boy robots and anti-establishment hackers. Newcomers to Lion’s Forge may not realize that they’re building superhero properties as well. Books like Quincredible and Accel are just two of the books to come out of this new generation of crimefighters, but all that crimefighting is built upon one event: Catalyst Prime.
The story starts with an asteroid heading to earth with enough mass to completely destroy the planet unless it is dealt with. So a team of the best and brightest in the field of astrophysics and space travel are chosen to handle the problem head-on. Of course this will be a suicide mission and while each member is saying their goodbyes a new universe is waiting to be born.
This comic is interesting because it begins almost unassumingly plain. The story is a mostly normal doomsday scenario – normal because these things happen in comics every day — similar to Armageddon and the like. As the story moves along we get quick shots of our team:
- Alistair Heath, husband, expectant father and soldier
- Zhang Tian, an astronaut who lives to make his parents proud
- Sonya Nozorov, an astrophysicist whose life work is all important
- David Powell, an astronaut who has just proposed marriage to his girlfriend
We get just enough characterization to feel something for the characters before they’re sacrificed for the good of the world. Though the comic is short and the ending is a bit predictable it remains nonetheless interesting in that it does the job of creating excitement for the world to come.
I look forward to the mysteries that unfold in this story as well as the fantastic world that will be born from them.
– Ra’Chaun Rogers
(Shawn Aldridge / Christopher Peterson)
I’m in love with a very strange girl. Maya Diaz works for the GoGetters Retrieval Service. She’s tough, a little ridiculous, has a great figure and – oh yeah, hangs out with a giant white gorilla named George Harrison. Maya’s quirky as hell, with her passion for Jamba Juice (okay, Jo-Jo’s Juice) and her fondness for calling people with a nickname with their first and last name, and by the end of this first issue Maya and George Harrison may face the worst threat they’ll ever face.
Your appreciation of this comic will depend completely on how well you can stand Maya, by how well you can handle the woman that, as one character, refers to her, is “a very peculiar girl.” I mean, we’ve had oddball leads before, weirdos who crack wise throughout – heck, that’s a big part of Spider-Man’s shtick – but at times Maya is such a Manic Pixie Dream Girl that she drives me a bit crazy here.
But the piece is all so light that it still works for me, in part because Christopher Peterson’s art is full of small exaggerations, small character “tell”s and bright coloring (by Nick Johnson) that gives everything an appropriately ridiculous feel, an amplified world where a MPDG and giant ape are just two more additions to a ludicrous world.
If you’re the kind of person who would enjoy a comic in which the heroine takes a selfie of herself during a pitched battle, this one’s for you.
– Jason Sacks