Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's roundup of small press comics reviews.
Blade of the North Wind
(Jeong Mo Jang/V.R. Porter)
Blade of the North Wind is a beautifully rendered, dynamic fantasy story that had me immersed in a cinematic world where a twist in the story only pulled me out of its environment long enough for it to twist me back into where I thought I had been; only now the ground beneath my feet was slightly less solid. It played with my expectations as if it were a meat cleaver wielded by a monster of great girth and greater savagery.
The story takes place in a land called Artharu where "a race of savage warriors known as the Kgarra trample over the realms of man with a ferocity that no one has ever seen." Of course, a hero is needed to save the day — but is this all just an adventure story to fill the mind and daydreams of a young boy tired of being "trained in the everyday responsibilities of the village"? The story twists and then twists again and when I got to the end, all I wanted was to read more to get my questions answered.
But what is most impressive about Blade of the North Wind is Jeong Mo Jang's art. The layout of the book is like the storyboards for an epic feature film. I gather the book is meant to be viewed digitally, so that each panel will fill the entire screen. This only adds to its intensity. Jang's monotone brushwork is expressive and evocative of Sumi-e art, full of ferocity and velocity, with sudden splashes of blood red adding an explosive spray of violence.
In Blade of the North Wind we have the monomyth polished anew and invigorated by masterful art. Blade of the North Wind is a fantastic example of what small press comics can do when talented people are given the freedom to create their stories on their own terms.
– Daniel Elkin
Revolution Aisle 9
(Brady Sullivan/Andrea Schiavone)
A one-shot from writer Brady Sullivan and artist Andrea Schiavone, Revolution Aisle 9 is part of a series called Welcome to Kent, which tells a group of slightly interconnected stories all set in the same town. In this town, a number of strange things happen — think a bit like the X-Files crossed with Fables, but crammed into one place. This latest story shows us what would happen if a magical hag threw a Revolutionary soldier into the modern day, for example. Well, you know how it is.
It's utterly crazed, but brilliantly realized and inventively written. Schiavone in particular excels with her composition, managing to flick between shots with consummate ease. There are some great sequences here, played out in a smart, coherent fashion when they could have seemed muddled and vague. Sullivan's writing is on-point, switching tone several times as the viewpoint moves around, but without short-changing the mood or characters. There's a strong element of snuff halfway through — which I've never enjoyed — but Sullivan does a good job of keeping it low-key, instead of the main focus. It's a strong read, and shows a lot of promise from all the creative team (and not forgetting the excellent work from letterer Bernie Lee). Published through Back Row Comics and available through either the Death Springs site or Graphicly, it's well worth a read.
– Steve Morris
This Xeric Award-winning graphic novel is an intriguing look at morality, friendship, the complexity of politics and the awesome beauty and power of nature.
Picket Line is the story of Bea, a girl from the Midwest who aimlessly wanders out to timber country in Northern California and who finds herself stuck — pretty much accidentally in the middle of an extremely controversial battle between conservationists and developers. Bea is wedged in the middle because, like most political stories, this battle is much more complicated than it seems at first glance.
Bea loves her boss, the wonderful Rex Huron, a man born with freakishly short arms and an extremely large heart. Rex continually tries to do his best throughout these events, which earns the respect of everybody involved in the conflict, but a lot of the power of this book comes from the conflict between Rex's internal moral compass and the events that are happening to him at breakneck speed.
Rex is just one of the characters whose complexity, good humor and wonderful personality make him a co
mpelling figure in this book. Despite its grand themes, Picket Line is all about the memorable characters at the center of the story – rootless and aimless Bea learning more about herself, the complicated relationship between young marrieds Liz and Derek, Bea's love interest Thomas, who has dark secrets that he's unwilling to discuss.
Wiederhoeft's art style is minimalist and cartoony; one of those styles that uses a few succinct lines to render a scene rather than a slew of line. The work is almost Charles Schulz-like in its simplicity and emotional honesty — it depends on well-placed lines to emphasize the story's emotional core rather than slick pyrotechnics.
There's just enough politics in this 250-page graphic novel to give the tale some complexity, but not so much that it takes away from the emotional heart of Picket Line — a heart that reminds us that it's the people we remember from the events that happen to us, not the events themselves.
– Jason Sacks
(Josh Finney/Kat Rocha)
Utopiates is an interesting look at some ideas that should be at least somewhat familiar to comics readers who are fans of Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis, which falls right in line with the Phillip K. Dick quote that opens the collection.
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away."
The big idea in Utopiates that's going through the different stories in this volume is that of injectable memes; a future where you can shoot up with a new personality whenever you need/want it. Of course, it's only a matter of time before people become addicted to the lives they're injecting themselves with, and Utopiates explores those who've become hooked, for one reason or another, on different memes and what it does to their lives.
Finney's writing isn't anything spectacular, but he's certainly got a well-crafted world with an interesting idea, which has been what I've run into with many cyberpunk stories. It's got elements of The Invisibles, The Matrix, Transmetropolitan, and quite a few other works with counter-culture themes. None of the stories Finney's telling are particularly compelling, I don't anticipate returning to Utopiates as I do the works I've mentioned that it reminds me of, but he's still kept me entertained.
The art, though, is going to make or break it for a lot of people. I still don't know how I feel about it, honestly. Seeing the credit at the end for "faces," I presume it is, as I expected, heavily photo referenced. It could even be Greg Land style lightboxing or digital editing, and while I'm usually very much opposed to this style of illustrating a comic, it feels like it at least fits here, somewhat.
Overall, there are some interesting ideas, but I'm not really sure it would warrant me giving any attention to future volumes.
– David Fairbanks
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 California 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.
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.
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.