Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's roundup of small press comics reviews.
Life Through The Lens
(Kent Olsen, Sabine ten Lohuis)
Life Through the Lens is a comic about two Chicago-based film critics who are struggling to separate fiction from reality in their lives. As a new year begins, they find themselves at some sort of pivotal moment in which ideas about narrative form and the actual narrative of their lives seem to overlap, and, in this, they become disassociated from each other as well as their own sense of self. It's a book thick with ideas, references, and subtle meta-textual tricks. It's the kind of book you would expect from someone who majored in both philosophy and film studies.
Luckily writer Kent Olsen is that someone.
This book is to be the first in a larger series of 10 to 13 issues, and it reads like the start of something larger than it is. But Life Through the Lens also can be seen as a self-contained commentary on the pervasiveness of entertainment culture. As it comments on the ideas of what makes film either engaging or repellant, it comments on itself. As our characters talk about films that "meander from scene to scene with no real purpose" and those that seem like "ideas in a blender," the reader cannot help but draw parallels to how this book itself is constructed. It's as if the dialogue that makes up the story of this comic is purposefully layered with non-sequiturs.
But that is a ruse. Olsen has the bigger picture in mind.
One of the characters comments on some of the problems with indie film-making by saying, "They think cause it's hard to follow it's deep." There are times when Life Through the Lens is hard to follow, but that's not what makes it "deep" — it comes off as purposeful, full of observation, aware of its own intricacies. Olsen has written on the back cover, "Many Filters Keep Reality At Bay. For every lens we make to see the world anew, focus is found in losses and gains."
Here the world of the senses is paramount. They are used to explore, to distract, to deaden, and to understand. There is a casualness to interaction with reality while each one of the two critics search for something of greater heft than booze, bumps, and blowjobs. And yet the men approach their understandings of their relationship with cinema (and with that, their own lives) from opposite perspectives, causing conflict between them, as if they were projections of the aspects of self, philosophically, Cartesian duality with stylists and prop glasses, good lighting and large language.
Life Through the Lens is not a casual comic book. It is a purposeful book for purposeful readers and I am interested to see where Olsen ends up as he pursues his ideas.
Complimenting Olsen's ideas are the ink-washed pages of Sabine ten Lohuis's art. Her work grounds this world of ideas into the world of reality as best it can, as it needs to, but in a manner that draws attention to itself in just the right amount, with an artist's hand. And ten Lohuis strikes me as an artist, and what she brings to this book is a sense of professionalism and a tempering of what otherwise could come across as the excesses of a writer impassioned with his own creation to the detriment of the creation itself.
Life Through the Lens is the kind of book that could have easily gone off the rails. It teeters on the verge of self-indulgence and snobbish masturbatory offense, but through a careful balancing act it maintains itself and ventures along the cliff with deft steps and a seemingly clear direction.
– Daniel Elkin
You can purchase Life Through the Lens at Indy Planet.
(Geoffrey D. Wessel, Zach Bassett; Atypical)
You just don't fuck with Officer Josiah Bledsoe. He's a bad-ass cop in the Department of Adjudication, ready to bust heads of humans and aliens alike. He's the sort of square-chinned, shoot-'em-first guy who's most at home when he's shooting the door off of some goddamn extraterrestrials' apartment, then blasting those goddamn aliens all to shit.
But when a Star Corps traitor returns to Earth — the very same traitor who ruined Josiah's dreams — Josiah goes even more hardcore on that man. Why wouldn't he? When you have the forces of righteousness on your side, there's no reason to hold yourself back.
Takedown is a fun little mashup of Judge Dredd and sci-fi epics. Geoffrey Wessel delivers a breakneck-paced 22-page epic, a cool world building exercise that thoroughly reads like it might be a pilot for a longer series that Wessel hopes to launch.
Zach Bassett's artwork is a bit sketchy for the story he's telling. If Wessel's writing reminds me of a sort of sci-fi Judge Dredd short, Bassett's art style reminds me of Ian Gibson, all distorted people and weird-ass creatures from outer space who have quirky, unexpected weird elements to their design that makes the aliens feel both familiar and weird at the same time. The art on Takedown feels kind of u
nfinished at times, and this comic might have looked better with bright, flashy primary colors applied to it, but the art tells Wessel's story well, especially in the wordless pages that help build an interesting setting for this comic.
Will this pilot comic lead to a whole series about this square-jawed avenger? Let's hope so. I'm not sure any of us even want to consider a world where Josiah Bledsoe feels pissed off at us.
– Jason Sacks
For more information on Takedown, go to Atypical Comics.
The C-Listers #1-3
(Jon Jebus, Mervyn McKoy, Dawnson Chen; Paperlab)
It's easy to be tough on mainstream-friendly small-press comics — the mainstream already does those kinds of books really well, so when you come across something that resembles a mainstream comic but not-as-good, the knives tend to come out. The last time I reviewed one of those types of books it didn't go well (at least, in terms of basic entertainment), but the first three issues of The C-Listers — a comic about superheroes with relationship problems –are actually pretty good. So don't expect a savage takedown or anything.
Part of why I enjoyed The C-Listers is that good art goes a long way — for example if it weren't Frank Quitely illustrating Jupiter's Legacy I doubt anybody would care (believe me; I tried to read that thing) and I certainly found this comic way more engaging than Jupiter's Legacy. That distinction is mostly due to artist Mervyn McKoy, who does indeed have a Quitely thing going on in his linework, considering the main character looks All-Star Invincible as he drinks beers with his superhero buddies. McKoy's got a more animated style than Quitely, however, and incorporates shades of folks like (off the top of my head) Mike Allred and Cameron Stewart. It's really nice to look at and formed enough that you can tell McKoy's on the cusp of being ready for prime time.
Which isn't to slight writer Jon Jebus, but the art does his script a great service by being as good as it is. Otherwise, I might be less inclined to enjoy his story, which is like a dirtier vision of comedically subversive superhero stuff you've seen in early Invincible and Love & Capes — more sitcom than superhero comic, but there's a sufficient amount of punching. He maintains a balance by being R-rated but not too dirty, which — I dunno, maybe you shouldn't play it so safe when you're doing small press? Either way, Jebus' script feels like he's taken his craft seriously enough to make reading the words worth one's time.
It's all nice-looking and professionally made — right down to the lettering, which is the bit so many small press comics get wrong. It's an achievement that feels rare in this weight class of comics, so it's very well deserving of attention.
While it sounds like I'm damning the thing with faint praise, you can boil all these words down to "I liked this more than I liked a new Frank Quitely comic," so I think The C-Listers is doing something right.
– Danny Djeljosevic
Find out more about The C-Listers at Paperlab Studios.