Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's roundup of small press comics reviews.
The Secret Voice
(Zack Soto; Study Group)
I love comics that really take me to a completely different place, that transport me heart and soul to a world of the creator's imagination, fully realized on the comics page. Zack Soto's The Secret Voice is a thrillingly dynamic comic that completely transported me to a world that lives in Soto's imagination.
I suppose you could think of this comic as a simple hero versus trolls sort of adventure, full of action and excitement and thrills galore. And that description sure as hell fits this comic. I mean, it's got swords and action, a hero battling against crazy creatures including a spit golem, which is a way cooler concept than it has any right to be. As our hero says after cutting off the hand of the troll leader Lord Thorgmal, "I think it is safe to say that the diplomatic element of this mission is a failure." There's a whole lot of fighting in this comic, and all of the fighting has a thrilling, seat-of-your-pants sort of off-kilter style that really kept me on an edge. The action is really intriguing.
But what's really intriguing about this comic is the way that Soto sets up his story. The story opens with a very long tracking shot through the caverns and catacombs in which the trolls live, and I honestly felt that those scenes were just as thrilling and intriguing as the action scenes. I was fascinated by tracking the life of these creatures and watching the way that they gather water or crack jokes, drink and arm-wrestle with each other.
This slow build moves the reader into the story in ways that feel really unique and which give a sense that Soto has really thought through the backstory of this adventure. That gives weight and heft to the diplomatic mission that starts the story — when there's talk of the ravages of the Smog Emperor, there's a sense that Soto has a much larger story he can tell, that this really is the first chapter of a much longer saga that could really become something legendary.
I hope I get to read a longer saga because this is a really awesomely fun and well realized comic.
– Jason Sacks
The Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs
(Etienne Davodeau; NBM)
Like the rest of you, when I think of France I think of great wine and comics. Wait… what… comics? Yeah, comics. France has a vibrant and iconoclastic comics community producing ground breaking and entrancing books for all kinds of audiences. Since 1992, Etienne Davodeau has been producing best selling and award winning fiction and non-fiction books, and his latest one is The Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs. This 272-pager follows the story of when Davodeau spent a year learning about biodynamic wine making from his neighbor, Richard Leroy. While learning about the process, he introduced Leroy to comics, both creating and reading them.
This book succeeds on a number of levels. Its first success is in the amount of information it conveys about wine-making and comic book production. It's extensive and Davodeau is able to present all of it in an engaging and gentle manner. Secondly, there is Davodeau's art. His inkwork, especially when depicting the landscapes of the various wine-making regions they visit, is stupendous. Light, open, expansive – it is in the natural world that Davodeau's work shines brightest, bringing his readers along with him even in black and white.
Finally, this book succeeds best when it draws parallels between the two art forms. Wine-making and comic creating are much closer in their craft than one might imagine, and it is when Initiates makes these connections that it is most captivating. Davodeau depicts Leroy as a man who infuses his personality into his wine. Leroy sees his creations as an extension of the man he wants to present to the world, part of the best face he puts forward. Davodeau feels the same way about his comics; he also sees his books as an opportunity for an audience to see the man who creates them.
Through the discovery of each other's work, they understand that both wine making and comic crafting are arts of experience and heart. The pair travel around quite a bit in the course of their journey of recognition, visiting other vineyards, attending comics conventions, tasting in cellars, watching the process of printing in action, talking with wine-makers and other cartoonists. At each of their stops, the two men often compare how alike the impetus for each other's art is to their own, “a true attention, a human closeness…” By drawing these parallels each artist is able to further define the universality of craft, of art, of the desire to communicate and be heard. There is a brilliance to this unfolding that Davodeau may not have been able to reach had he not chanced on this opportunity. It shows his true artistic sensibility that he was willing to open himself to this experience, and we are all the better for him having done so and for him having produced this work.
The Initiates was, of course, originally written in French, and the book's only detriment is Joe Johnson's translation, which is a bit stilted and wonky at times. Certain turns of phrase could have been made so much smoother had a more careful editorial hand been present. The awkwardness of the language is distracting at times, but overall effect on what Davodeau has accomplished in this book is only slightly diminished.
If you like wine, comics, and thinking about what makes each one so special as you think about the act of creating itself, pick this one up. You can order it from the NBM site here.
– Daniel Elkin
You can buy The Initiates directly from NBM.
(Box Brown; Sacred Prism)
Box Brown's Memorexia is the first book out from Ian Harker's Sacred Prism line of mini comics, and it's a very good start. Brown has been steadily publishing his own comics for years now, and one thing I've always admired about his comics is that he's always willing to try something new aesthetically, while still managing to keep his comics firmly rooted in his interests — that is, dead-end hometown slacker culture.
Memorexia focuses on a futuristic therapy session where the protagonist, Shawn, is strapped into an elaborate machine that will allow him to relive a memory from his past as a teenage jerk so that he can better cope with his adult anxiety. It's a simple conceit (as far as high-concept conceits go), allowing Brown to dip a toe in the practical sci-fi waters while still giving him an opportunity to tell the type of story that he's known for. If you're familiar with Box Brown's work, then you'll recognize the teenage underachiever dirtbag archetype and the gruff, blue-collar father, as well as all the unspoken feelings barely concealed between characters.
While it's not that big a departure from previous themes, Memorexia separates itself from other Box Brown comics because Brown gives the sense that he's trying out some new techniques with his art and printing. His work looks a lot cleaner and more confident, and because of the sci-fi conceit, Brown gets to draw something besides house parties and the back alleys of strip-malls. It's fresh cartooning, like if Chris Ware looked like he was having fun drawing comics.
– Geoffrey Lapid
You can buy Memorexia from Secret Prison.
In the last issue of Martin Eden's sexy superhero soap opera, team member Diva turned out to be God. Yes, as in the character played by Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty. Quite the audacious cliffhanger, that.
This issue, nothing much happens.
That's a little unfair, I suppose; Eden uses this not-quite final issue — a special one-shot is in the works for later in the year — to resolve subplots and redefine some characters and their relationships, the kind of character work at which he's always been remarkable, even from the early photocopies-and-staples days of The O Men. It's good work here too; each member of the cast comes across as having a real, rounded personality and their interactions and relationships are convincing. The storytelling is strong, so that even though most of the issue is made up of people talking, it never feels dull or stilted; again this is not much of a surprise, as Eden has always shown an aptitude for talking heads in his comics.
All of which is great, but then there's that cliffhanger in which the creator of the universe is running around and, well, nothing comes of it. Again, that's a little unfair because there are a couple of little twists that mean that it's not quite a case of the reset button being pushed, but it still feels like a bit of a cheat, or at least stalling. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but when the story is called "O.M.F.G." one might expect the "G" bit to be more than a red herring.
I wouldn't want to give the impression that this is a bad comic because it's not; moreover, it epitomizes most of Martin Eden's strengths as a comics creator, the talents that make it a constant surprise that he's not been snapped up to write the X-Men or whatever equivalent they have at DC. The problem is that with last issue Eden set himself such a high bar, one that I looked forward to seeing him tackle, with all his skills as a writer, and he didn't fail to reach it as such, but ignore it and go elsewhere. Spandex #7 is a superhero comic that is very good but is also somewhat disappointing at the same time, and I'm not sure what to make of it.
– Kelvin Green
You can find out more about Spandex at its official website.