Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's roundup of small press comics reviews.
It is wonderful and terrifying to meet someone who changes your perspective. He or she could be familiar or, in Jeremy Baum's Extravagant Traveler, completely alien in every sense of the word.
Baum's greatest strength is his narrative. This story, for all its initial worldly disdain, is touching and provocative. It is, in essence, a story about hope (albeit distracted one). The tortured young protagonist is haunted by a rough home life, an unseen bully, and existential quandary. Hope is had, however, in encounter with a woman bathing in a pond, his subsequent alien abduction, and sexual exploits with said woman therein. I know it sounds like a sci-fi nerd's trite wet dream, but the plot left me feeling that we as a species will be okay; that the meaning of life is just to ensure life endures. Again, this is a story about hope.
For all the evocative narrative and meaningful conclusions, however, Extravagant Traveler is plagued by distractions. Baum's work is inundated with unnaturally angled trees that are too prominent to be an arbitrary stylistic choice, and too insignificant to the story to be acceptable as a prop to the surrealist setting. The trees are magnetic, omnipresent, and completely disconnected from everything that is going on. They are not symbolic, just present and weird. My better half argued to me it was stylistic and cited Bill Waterson's trees, "You know a Waterson tree when you see one," she exclaimed. I agree but the prominence of Baum's trees feels forced and overwrought. Along the same lines is a symbol associated with alien telepathy and teeth. Teeth are the unlikely focus in most of Baum's panels with no apparent significance. This would be incredible if he was writing a story with a prominent theme of consumption or man's desire to engulf, but that is not the case. I look at these elements and am left asking "So what?" Maybe the unnatural shape and prominence of the trees serve to accentuate the perverse organic something something of enduring life? I'm really trying here. I can only offer borrowed wisdom from Gary Panter: "Don't worry about a style. It will creep up on you and eventually you will have to undo it in order to go further. Be like a river and accept everything."
I would be remiss, however, if I did not speak to Baum's exceptional use of color. Everything is cool, muted, and underplayed. This is important and relevant, because it's a little grim. It's sad and gives the story's contemplative theme a sense of urgency. It also serves to magnify the hopeful revelation the protagonist has in an otherwise hopeless environment. Additionally, his transitions are seamless, artfully employing hyper close panels that travel through pupils and pop out of bloodstreams. They leave the reader with a sense of discomfort associated with extreme closeness which is extraordinarily appropriate for the setting.
All things considered, Baum has created something good here and I am going to get my hands on his other work, Postland, soon because I am excited for what he is creating. He's onto something. In short, Extravagant Traveler deserves your attention even if it leaves you echoing the protagonist, "…I don't understand."
Jeremy Baum's work is available here.
– Ryan Anderson
Halcyon & Tenderfoot #2
(Daniel Clifford/Lee Robinson/Nadine Ashworth)
Issue #2 of Halcyon and Tenderfoot sees Halcyon's shocking death explored in far more depth than you could have believed. The end of the first issue suggested a quick resurrection would be on the cards here, but instead writer Daniel Clifford refuses to cheat readers. Instead, he goes into a detailed exploration into the nature of heroism, and how the death of a superhero — an ideal — affects those he inspired. This is hearty stuff, made stirring from the decision to pace Tenderfoot's mourning with the panic of supervillain Halogen Man, who killed the hero. By not just developing Halcyon's friends and family but also his enemies and acquaintances, Clifford expands the world and really manages to develop his core cast, as well as the story. This is fascinating storytelling.
Lee Robinson's art is also exceptional here, working alongside Nadine Ashworth's shading/colouring to establish a bouncy tone even while exploring a death, and extended scenes at a funeral. This isn't a comic which excludes younger readers — it instead recognises that children can handle more mature storytelling than most comics give them credit for. The artwork establishes a presence for the characters — with some winning design — and works alongside the script to carefully plan the narrative for maximum effect. Halcyon and Tenderfoot started out as a simple, entertaining superhero story. This issue shows that it's developed into something rather stunning, innovative and expressive. It's a superb piece of work.
– Steve Morris
Vancouver, B.C.'s Cloudscape Comics Society has been releasing wonderful anthology comics that present work by members of their collective, with each story centered on a particular theme. 2011's anthology was all about the theme of traveling. Each of the stories presented in this book tells the story of someone's journey in one way or another. The most impressive aspect of 21 Journeys is that there are more good stories presented in this book than bad stories.
For instance, Jeff Ellis's "A Single Step" brings young lust, the terror of travel and the beauty of Southeast Asia together to make a wonderfully interesting and evocatively drawn vignette. Colleen MacIsaac delivers a very interesting and well-drawn true-life story about a small submarine that set out to perform some underwater exploration to expand human knowledge. On a completely different note, Sydney More's "Terrible Things" tells a terribly sad story with a sweet, almost Nicktoons-type art style.
Another creator who stands out in this book is Christopher Leinonen, who creates three stories titled "An Essential Business" about his travels in Egypt, Ethiopia and Canada (yes, Canada). Despite their diverse settings, each of these stories centers around bus trips and each story provides a completely different perspective on that experience. Leinonen's art is a bit sketchy and loose and wonderfully resonant of places that I've never been.
There are, of course, other terrific stories in this book. Anise Shaw and Wei Li's "Of Death and Wandering" is an intense and dark meditation of a woman's journey through her life. Victoria Sticha's "Ulyssa" contrasts a charmingly cartoonish art style with a terribly dark story. And "Parallel Lines" by Kevin Forbes and Aaron Bouthillier tells a fun spy story with a neat twist ending.
Most every story in this book has a different feel from the one before. Put together, this cool book has the feeling of a great journey all around the world when you get to visit a really diverse group of exotic locations.
– Jason Sacks
(Matt O'Keefe/Arisyahrazad/Cecilia La Tella/Sam Tung/Pat Loika)
Let there be no mistake, the Devil is one tricky motherfucker. He'll promise you all kinds of things — sweet, desirable, luscious things – but whatever succulent or savory service he provides, eventually you will rue the day you made that deal.
You want eternal youth? Sure, you can have it, but you never said anything about staving off the degeneration of your mind engendered by old age. You want eternal life? Sure, you can have it, but you never said anything about staying young. It never pays off, when you dance with Mr. D.
This is the Devil that we meet in Matt O'Keefe's Deadless #0, the douchebag devil, the evil motherfucker. Deadless #0 contains four short stories, each illustrated by different artists, each telling the tale of some poor sap who has made a deal with Azil, the devil, who is subsequently trying to figure out a way to get out of it. This leads to the formation of a team who are working with the Devil to try to get out of their bargains, the titular Deadless.
While none of this is anything new (I'm reminded of Satan's Six, for example), Deadless #0 is a fun, interesting read. As a lead in to a four issue miniseries, Deadless #0 does a great job of introducing characters, setting stakes, and raising issues that make for piqued interest. I like the fact that the Devil O'Keef introduces is all about being an evil bastard. I like how O'Keef is able to bring a depth and complexity to the characters in a very short amount of time, without relying too much on clichés or didacticism. These are desperate people, desperate to die, and it is this desperation that makes them so intriguing.
Of special note is the art of Sam Tung, whose work shines in the story "Unfriendly" a rather clever take on the Casper the Friendly Ghost tale.
It's my understanding that Matt O'Keefe is shopping Deadless around to publishers. I hope he finds somebody as I would love to read this series.
You can download Deadless #0 for FREE here.
– Daniel Elkin
The Legends of Aveon 9
(Shamik Dasgupta/Abhishek Malsuni/Abhishek Malsuni/Sunil Paswan/Shashank Mishra/Troy Peteri/Yin Yuming/Ron Marz)
Rovolt Entertainment Services
There's nothing I love more than a giant wall of text at the start of my comics…
Prefaces have a place in lots of different things, but they should never feel like a chore, like a writer checking off boxes of "things I didn't cover in the story." I won't say it's the sign of a weak writer or a weak story — my favorite film is The Empire Strikes Back, where I have no problem with a nice scrolling preface — but I do have to say that when they get to be three large paragraphs long, I have to wonder just how necessary it is. More importantly, why was this something that couldn't have been done by showing through the story, rather than telling?
The first text box of the first page reads "VEXADUS, CRADLE OF HUMAN CIVILIZATION ON AVEON 9." This alone could've taken a solid chunk out of the wordy preface. Maybe I'm nitpicking, but considering that we get an asterisk on Page 2 telling us to check out a "Natives of Aveon 9" section for information on a race of merchants, this seems to be their way of doing things.
That is to say that the creative team delivers an overabundance of words, but not much in the realm of story. A man goes missing, his son runs away to find him then runs into and befriends a princess, with more adventures to come. That's, well, that's about it really.
Ron Marz is on editing duties and has included a letter where he keeps talking about Aveon 9 being a "fantastic setting." It certainly seems like it could be a fantasy setting, as it seems to be embracing quite a few genre conventions (including an overabundance of cleavage in that "Natives of Aveon 9" appendix), but I don't see anything particularly fantastic about it, especially with so little to go on in the way of story.
I'm sure Shamik Dasgupta has a very dense and detailed description of everything about Aveon 9, but you could write an encyclopedia's worth of knowledge about this setting and it won't do a thing for a weak plot.
One thing I can say about The Legends of Aveon 9 is that it is one of the most beautiful comics I've seen in some time. If Abhishek Malsuni could shake the need to have a not insignificant number of women fit into the big breasted, underclothed fantasy stereotype, I would love to see more of his work elsewhere.
In the end, I would have suggested that they pitch this to Wizards of the Coast as a new D&D setting before suggesting that what we have here was anything nearing a good comic. There's just not enough story.
– David Fairbanks
Ryan Anderson shapes malleable young minds as a tutor in Seattle. When not committing that dubious act, he can be found overcome by the abundance of comics out there catalyzing thought and evoking e
motion. He wants to make sure you read those comics, too. Pithier reviews, devoid of any real gravitas or credibility, can be found on Twitter at @TheRyanReview.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.
Daniel Elkin wishes there were more opportunities in his day to day to wear brown corduroy and hang out in lobbies. He has been known to talk animatedly about extended metaphors featuring pigs' heads on sticks over on that Twitter (@DanielElkin). He is Your Chicken Enemy.
David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.