Current Reviews


Fablewood Anthology

Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2008
By: Matthew J. Brady

Various with William Ward, editor
Ape Entertainment
Anthologies, as most any critic will tell you, are often a mixed bag. When several stories by a host of varied creators are smashed together between two covers, itís inevitable that not every story is going to connect with every reader. Add to that problem the difficulty in writing a good short story--especially if it must also meet the requirement of whatever theme an editor has determined. In other words, these sorts of books can sometimes turn out fairly poorly.

However, thatís not always the case. When a good editor can collect a bunch of talented contributors and then put together a nicely-paced collection of like-minded work, it can end up being a very satisfying reading experience. Sure, there will probably be some clunkers in the bunch--but, in the case of the Flight books or Imageís recent Popgun, the good will outweigh the mediocre (with nothing at all ending up in the ďbadĒ category, in the best cases).

So how does Ape Entertainmentís new anthology Fablewood measure up to these stellar examples? Well, unfortunately, it falls pretty far below the high-water marks for comic anthologies.

Though I havenít read a great amount of Apeís output, what Iíve seen often strikes me as fairly amateurish--and this book is no exception. There are a couple of nice entries, but most of them are just not very well written or illustrated.

The book doesnít exactly kick off on a promising note. J.P. Ahonenís ďSolaceĒ is a weird, cloyingly sentimental tale of a young aardvark-like creature mourning his parentsí death. Luckily, he has his grandfather around to comfort him and feed him some mystical story about their spirits becoming the aurora borealis. Itís not exactly deep, or all that well-drawn, but it does feature some nice coloring--especially on the snowy landscapes and northern lights.

The second story, ďDie a Hero,Ē by Steve Kinder and Kevin Crossley, fares a bit better--though it features an ironic twist that isnít exactly novel. Itís about a warrior who wants to defend his land, and we see him meet a monstrous invader. However, we then learn that the invader is exactly the same as the warrior is--someone who is willing to die for his king. ďDude, weíre all the same, why should we kill each other, am I right?Ē So, not exactly novel, but itís a step up from the first story, and the art is pretty nice, too--with some really pretty coloring and soft, expressive linework. Itís probably one of the better stories in the book.

Then comes ďA Vicious CircleĒ, by J.J. Nass and Elanor Cooper, a lengthy, tiresome story about some kids forming a club to practice magic, which is forbidden in their society. They end up conjuring a nasty creature and causing problems. And thatís all there is to it. None of the characters are interesting, and the art is straight out of an uninteresting webcomic. Best to skip this one.

ďThe Spirits & the Woods,Ē by Scott Hallett, is a seemingly Japanese-inspired story about a girl investigating some Hayao Miyazaki-esque ghosts infesting a forest. Itís not terrible, but it ends in a pretty corny manner. The best thing about it are the illustrations of the ghosts, which look like shadows with glowing eyes. Itís a nice effect which, along with the luscious illustrations of the forest, barely livens up a subpar story

ďMandala,Ē by Joe Infurnari (artist of Caveman Robot, the webcomic The Process, and the most recent issue of Wasteland), is the most ambitious story in the volume, telling a strange tale of a boy who gets eaten by a giant robot/magical statue in the desert. Itís meant to be read in a sort of loop--with right-facing pages going forward and left-facing pages going backward and leading to the beginning.

I donít know if this narrative experiment works as well as Infurnari intended, but the story is definitely on a level above the rest of the book--and the art is gorgeous, full of beautiful details and bright colors. I donít know if this story alone makes the book as a whole worth reading, but itís definitely the best thing about it.

Next up, we have ďBlessings,Ē written by William Ward and illustrated by Invincibleís Ryan Ottley, with colors by Manny Trembley (Sam Noir, Samurai Detective). Itís a short trifle (three pages) about Achilles fending off some attackers on the eve of the Trojan War (or possibly after it, which I suppose would mean the story takes place in the afterlife). It looks very nice (especially Trembleyís coloring), but itís so short that it barely registers.

ďJíNee, Where Are You?Ē by Joe Suitor is another nicely-illustrated story, but itís not a very good one. I think it has to do with a young man rescuing his fairy girlfriend from a snowy cave, but I canít really tell. Itís weird, but it does look pretty nice. However, I think itís always preferable to have a story that the reader can follow.

Axel Medellin Machainís ďThe Ancient PactĒ is another trifle, but itís also pretty nice-looking. It has to do with a fairy seeking revenge on people, but with an attempt at a humorous twist. The art is pretty good, and Machain could probably get work in mainstream comics if he wanted.

ďUnder the Midnight Sun,Ē by Chris Studabaker and Dusty Neal, is one of the more interesting stories--telling the tale of the secret life of the shadows cast by trees, who want nothing more than to be able to see the sun someday. Itís beautifully illustrated in black and white, with expressive, near-photorealistic faces given to the shadows. However, I have trouble figuring out the actual story. Maybe itís supposed to be some sort of religious parable, with shadows believing in a god that they can never see.

Near the end, the story takes a sort of environmentalist turn, with humans cutting down the trees and killing the shadows, but this element seems kind of poorly thought out. Donít humans have shadows too? Or do they move too fast for the tree-shadows to notice? While itís a bit of an awkwardly-told story, itís at least striving for something more than amateurish tales of orcs, ghosts, and magic.

Daniel Lafranceís ďUnworthyĒ jumps right back into tawdry, generic fantasy with a story about a girl trying to cross a mountain pass guarded by an ogre. Itís one of those silly tales about honor or something. Like many of the stories in this volume, itís nicely-illustrated, but thatís just not enough to make it worthwhile.

ďFish,Ē by Sarah Mensinga, is another short, inconsequential story. Itís about a guy who was tied to a sinking ship and left to drown. He is spotted by a mermaid, but she seems more interested in feeding him some sort of fish than untying him.

Itís cute, with more of the nice coloring that dominates the book, and itís also dialogue-free, featuring Owly-like pictograms in the word balloons. Itís actually one of the better stories in the book--probably because Mensinga does a good job of telling a nice story in the space she has.

ďA Tale of Two ShiftersĒ by Troy Dye, Tom Kelesides, and Colin Fogel--with color by Dustin Evans--is another boring, mawkishly sentimental story. This one is about shape shifting goblin thieves who get punished for stealing. Yawn. Itís not bad-looking, but not especially eye-catching either.

Finally, Jonathan Daltonís ďThe Cloudleapers of Blue Pine MountainĒ finishes the book--but not especially well. Itís another entry featuring webcomic-level artwork in service to a boring story about elvish villagers dealing with a monkey-like monster infesting the mountain from which they pick their crops. Or something like that; itís hard to pay attention long enough to care.

So from that roundup of stories, what have we learned?

I would say that an ability to use Photoshop to give a story nice coloring doesnít mean you can make good comics--especially if you donít know how to tell a good story.

Maybe this book just isnít my sort of thing. Maybe others will find this material more compelling than I did. However, I still think most of the content is lacking in weight. Itís so light and fluffy that I had trouble remembering anything about it, even if it was nicely-illustrated.

So, even though there are a couple worthy entries (especially Infurnariís and Mensingaís contributions), I donít think the book is worth reading, much less doling out hard-earned money for.

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