Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's roundup of small press comics reviews.
Tyranny of the Muse Issue 1
(Eddie Wright/Jesse Balmer)
Tyranny of the Muse Issue 1 is the first in the series adapting Eddie Wright's novella Broken Bulbs. The premise of the story is that there's this washed up writer who meets his muse and is able to write again. The twist on this trope in Tyranny of the Muse, though, is that the writer's muse inspires him by "injecting seeds of inspiration directly into his brain through a festering wound."
It's all kinds of nasty.
There is a filth to this book, reminiscent of a William S. Burroughs story or a David Cronenberg film (or a David Cronenberg film of a William S. Burroughs story), and the narrative is fractured and plaintive. There is so much to push a reader away in these fifty some pages, yet I found myself propelled through, unable to put the book down.
This is a story of an inspiration junky, hooked on what Rob Brezny calls Acute Fluency, where the creator is fully immersed in a trance of inspiration to the point where time itself loses relevancy. Any creative person who has ever found him or herself in this state knows it for what it is and knows it potency. It is an endorphin high. It's Barton Fink dancing at the USO yelling, "I am a creator!" And it's addictive.
So is Tyranny of the Muse. What Wright and Balmer have done here is akin to genius. They turn creativity into destruction, the muse into the dealer, and provide, perhaps, a cautionary tale to artists who feel bereft of inspiration. The art and the words in this book combine perfectly to get you all strung out and keep you reading. This is a thick book, dense with all that filth that overwhelms you when you just can't find the words or colors or moves or your fix. Then you score, only to find yourself at the end of the high wanting more and more and more.
– Daniel Elkin
The Great Unknown #1
In Jonathan Duran's ambitious introduction to this new anthology, he declares that, in comics, "the brave, the bright and the willing are seizing upon this opportune moment in time to push their creations into the world of reality." There's also a note from the editor, Hardstein, who rightfully acknowledges that this is an exciting time to be in the medium of comics.
This is the kind of attitude we have here at Comics Bulletin, so even if the pieces of this anthology may not all be Eisner/Ignatz winning quality, we're pretty happy to give them some attention. Here are my thoughts on the stories contained in The Great Unknown #1.
A Twelve Minute Revolution in Just Reading
(Darren Hupke & Vincent Tang)
A historical, circular science-fiction piece with an interesting art style from Tang that could benefit from either a little more time or some more solid inking; it feels like a slightly less experienced Riley Rossmo, which means he's headed in an interesting direction. Hupke's story seemed a bit predictable, but it's just the perfect fit and length for an anthology like this.
Soupe aux Champignons
(Blas Bigatti & Antonio HG)
An ancient aliens story that posits that the establishment of at least one type of god came from a misprogrammed alien who, with a craving for soup, found himself using implanted skills to turn parts of his encounter with humanity into a soup. There's not much but a clever idea for the story, but again, this is an anthology, and when you get a handful of pages, sometimes a clever idea is all you need.
Antonio HG's art looks unfinished at parts, with some pages looking like they could benefit from a little more time, if only because others looked near perfect. I'm not a fan of the notebook paper as captions. I think it was supposed to represent a recipe book, but it just looks kind of tacky.
(OS Georg & Peter Singer)
I have a very difficult time with the style of art that Singer uses here. His backgrounds are shaky or nonexistent and he seems to rely heavily on solid black for shadows, which contrasts a bit sharply with the generally light backgrounds. Georg is credited for "grayscaling," though, so maybe the blacks were covered in that too?
Georg's story, one of reprogramming a dangerous human being, is an interesting premise, but the dialogue seems pretty/unrealistic at parts. I appreciated the turn at the end, though; it added a little bit of depth that I wasn't expecting.
The New Zoo
I don't really know what was going on here or what it was I just read, really. An uncle and his annoying nephew go to a zoo, where the nephew is bored and not even remotely interested in the strange, extraterrestrial creatures kept there. There's a conflict, and then they run away, friendlier than when they started. It feels like if someone tried to tell a sci-fi story with all the depth of a Family Circus comic. There are times that Cobb's art looks to have some effort put into it, but the story seems to be a frame to showcase the weird monsters that a teenager would spend time doodling in the back of their notebook.
(Daniel de Sosa)
I'm pretty torn here. You get a fantasy story that seems to come with many of the trappings, including sexism and unnecessarily skimpy clothing, but it acknowledges the ridiculousness of the skimpiness, so that'
s something, I guess? Regardless, there's not much to the story and it seems to be there solely to showcase the art, which appears to be done with watercolors. So while I would almost prefer it to be a bit more detailed at parts, de Sosa's story at least looks really pretty, especially in some of the forest panels. And if it's not real watercolor, he's done a good job at making it look like it is.
A bizarre story about the adventures of a college professor in the first afterlife (yes, there might be more than one), who appears to be teaming up with a spider-woman and a fruit genie to take on God him/her/itself. The story, while never overly deep, is fun, which pairs pretty well with the cartoonish, occasionally disproportionate art style. Hardstein does a trick with some panel progressions early on that show that he's interested in playing around with the medium a bit, and I'm eager to see where he goes and how his style evolves.
(Dylan Faraday & Alex Dunn)
Props from the start for the pun of "Jen & Tonic." I'm not huge on the density of the dialogue/word balloons; sometimes they take up way too much of the panels they are in, but Dunn's art is generally pretty solid and Faraday's story is enjoyable. I'd say this is about on par with "GODDAMMIT!" It's something that is entertaining enough, but could've used either more pages to spread out the dialogue or a careful hand editing it and determining what needs to be kept.
There is a series of ads throughout the anthology, between the stories, by Tudor Morris, and I have to say that I found myself chuckling at each one of them. They were probably my favorite part, honestly.
And there's a guest column at the end by Chris Roberson of MonkeyBrain Comics, where he lays out some pretty reasonable expectations as well as reprinting Scott McCloud's 1988 Creator's Bill of Rights.
Whether you enjoy the comics in The Great Unknown or not, this is a pretty important deal, and while it's really easy to be burned by an anthology, I was pleasantly surprised by enough of what I found that I hope the series keeps up.
(Ricky Miller/Tim Bird/Michael Gosden/David White/Marjory Wallace, Claire J.C. Stewart, P.R. Rainey)
Avery Hill Publishing
Reads is a really nice collection of short stories in a small-press anthology comic. This zine starts with a clever cover that made me smile and hopefully makes you smile, too, if you’re a good person who likes the Beatles. Liz Jordan is a clever woman, and her cover enticed me to read this book.
The lead story, "Metroland", is a good example of the kind of enthusiasm and excitement that overcomes uneven presentation. Ricky Miller tries to employ a number of different techniques in illustrating this story. Unfortunately, maybe because of production problems, there are a few pages that shine and are quite lovely, while others look muddy and are hard to follow.
But Miller's enthusiasm for his time travel story, which began in Reads #1, makes the story work– the clever ways that he integrates music and time travel paradoxes and even a very cute dog into this chapter show a level of thought and complexity that are compelling and fun. Maybe because of the weaknesses of this story, I enjoyed spending time exploring its strengths.
"Bad Times Ahead" also continues from Reads #1, also works because of its enthusiasm. The art appears crude but the story has a charming andsurreal feel to it that makes me want to read more of this story.
This zine also contains three slice of life stories. The first, written and illustrated by Tim Bird, is a quick vignette about London taxi drivers. At four plotless pages, it's slight in size. But Bird's art reminds me a bit of the Canadian cartoonist Seth's work, and the character stuck in my mind for some mysterious reason.
The next slice of life tale is "The House" by Marjory Wallace, a sweet little story about a minor childhood misunderstanding – a great little three-page small press story.
And the final slice of life tale is Paul Rainey's "Wednesdays", an intriguingly-drawn piece about family dysfunction and childhood annoyance that provides a nice contrast to the other stories in the book. The art remind me a bit of Kim Deitch, while the story is full of real life high melodrama and weirdness. It sounds a dissonant note in the midst of this anthology and thereby provides a useful contrast to everything else in this issue.
Which includes the final story, "Cloudriders" by Claire Stewart, a sweet, oblique fantasy.
All the stories here are full of enthusiasm and passion; all are clever and interesting and entertaining in their own quirky ways. It's great that anthologies like this are still being published.
For more information on Reads #2, check out Avery Hill Publishing.
Daniel Elkin has been reading and commenting on comics since the mid '70s when he used to wear a great deal of brown corduroy. Currently he lives in Northern Californ
ia where brown corduroy is slowly becoming fashionable again. Daniel has worked in bars, restaurants, department stores, classrooms and offices. He is a published poet, member of MENSA, committed father, gadfly and bon vivant. He can over-intellectualize just about anything and is known to have long Twitter conversations with himself (@DanielElkin).
P.S. He keeps a blog, 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.