Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comic Bulletin’s small press review column.
By Paloma Dawkins
Published by Retrofit/Big Planet
Summerland, Paloma Dawkins’ new book from Retrofit/Big Planet, is a spectacular example of how color can be joyously used to convey structure and feeling in comics.
With the eye of a psychedelic impressionist, Dawkins understands how the softness of bright colors can express time and emotion as much as beauty and setting. Everything in this book is filtered through the particular light of summer. In Summerland there is a flow of hues that bleed into one another. Bright yellows and greens fade into blues and purples, which then take on a red glow. This leads to oranges which are then highlighted with a return to the yellow. It is a journey in color, mimicking the sun as it rises and sets, only to rise once more. It marks time passing and adds an emotional beat to its themes.
In their solicitation for Summerland, Retrofit calls Dawkins’ use of color “riotous” — and by riotous they are probably referring to a definition focused on being exciting and full of energy and existing in ample amounts. Yet part of me wants to see the word “riotous” as meaning something that, due to the sheer power of its vibrancy, borders upon being wild and disordered. Though it is neither of these things. This is a book crafted with intent.
For as much as the colors of this book grab your focus, ultimately this is a book about time — what we remember, what passes, what we do, what we forget, and who we become.
Summerland is broken into two parts. The first focuses on two cousins, Santana and Gwen, and their annual preparation and execution of a play in a sea-side town they call Summerland. The setup of the play is a swirl of creative activity, hedonism, beauty, and joy, with Santana taking on the role of organizer, while Gwen is the actress and star. The celebratory nature of part one, though, has an emotional underpinning of loss or sadness, as Santana says that it will be her final year in Summerland.
The second part of Summerland takes place a few years later and in that time the cousins’ lives have changed. They are less freewheeling, more grounded, and yet as much as things are different, the cousins are still playing their roles. Now, though, their youthful ideas are increasingly fleshed out in the light of reality, and, most importantly, there is still beauty and joy to be found. It is in the echos of narrative structure and, powerfully, the flow of Dawkins’ use of color, that the themes of this small book are revealed.
It is when the circle of Summerland is complete that the reader understands Dawkins’ intent. What may seem garish or ill-thought through is, in the end, by design. Summerland is the result of careful choices and a heart worn on the sleeve of its creator. With this book, Paloma Dawkins reminds us that life is a series of cycles. While it seems that we lose so much with each renewal, the reality is that the beauty that colors our relationships and ideas exists eternally.
We don’t need an idyll like Summerland to see that. Sometimes, wherever we are in our lives, we just need the right vantage point to watch the sunrise.
— Daniel Elkin
Revenger … Is Trapped (1-shot)
by Charles Forsman
Published by Oily Comics
Revenger … Is Trapped is an ultra-ultra-violent action comic about, as Forsman puts it on his Patreon homepage, ”a woman in an alternative 1980s USA that roams the land helping the beaten-down and exploited even the score against their oppressors. Think of it like the Incredible Hulk TV show from the 70s with a lot more blood.” Any Bixby-esque do-gooder-ism on display in previous issues gets pitched out the window here like a Kool smoked down to the filter.
The story beats will feel familiar for those souls nursed on 80s actioners from George Cosmatos and John Carpenter—slick yet raggedy American movies with a piquant finish of European sensitivity. Revenger requires no hand-holding. Everything the reader needs to know is in the title. Simple. Shrewd. Forsman cops subversion, foments, he is the cartoonist as insurgent. Like Carpenter, he gives readers what they want then EL SMACKO! he hits with the sobering morality of the moment. Any play at pastiche is designed as a distraction.
Revenger herself represents Forsman’s foremost subversion. She’s black, scarred, and with the back-half of the left-side of her head burned (?) so it looks like she lost a fight with a white hot harrow. She sports a sleeveless top, gloves, ash grey jeans, and boots. A no quarter-giving and no shit-taking badass. She looks like a weightlifter, muscular and meaty with thighs thick as tree trunks and arms like an old-timey bare-knuckle middleweight. Forsman draws Revenger as no bullshit. She looks the way a woman with a particular talent for face-punching and roundhouse kicks would and should look. Revenger is the ideal, not an idealized, female.
After she’s ambushed, Revenger gets tossed into a pit and has to fight her way through an underground warren of wonders like a feral child, hillbillies, and a tumoral seer, well, at least half of one. These circus freak-types are as pitiful as they are rote, merely obstacles in Revenger’s way. So she beats them, brains them, and rips off their limbs. The lack of punches pulled or limbs left in sockets thrills and disgusts in equal measure — comic book violence without the comic book. Once she’s topside, it means more side-scrolling mayhem. Well, duh.
Forsman’s cartooning has a rude, uncomplicated, and unflattering edginess to it, if for no other reason than a story calling for harelips, goiters, and veiny arms should lack a sense of … romance. It’s not that Forsman is a one trick pony, far from it. He knows his game and he plays it well. When the story calls for the splashy shot of the buckled, booted, and bladed heroine, it’s earned due to the starkness (ugliness) that precedes it — a perfect example of a cartoonist who understands comics are a visual medium.
Forsman’s “escape from hillbilly prison plot” is trite, ditto the backwoods baddies who stand in Revenger’s way. That’s the point. Dumb clichés don’t (have to) make action comics dumb. The local yokels aren’t much more than stereotypical straw men because Forsman isn’t trying to be some social justice crusader for Appalachia. This is Revenger’s story. The morass of clichés is a smokescreen to show (not tell) how far a survivor like Revenger will go to stay among the living. The final page makes Forsman’s point clear what kind of code defines his hero. There’s no ambiguity in Revenger. Again, it’s in the name. There’s also no doubt Forsman makes kick-ass action comics. The difference is in how an insurgent like Forsman gets in the reader’s head and asks what violence and chaotic evil says about the bloodthirsty mob who stare back.
For all things Revenger and Charles Forsman, visit revengerkills.com
— Keith Silva (@keithpmsilva)