Category Archives: Reviews – Indy/Small Press

Mars Needs Better Moms

The Martian Confederacy Volume 2: From Mars With Love original graphic novel
Writer: Jason McNamara
Artist/Cover artist: Paige Braddock
Tones: Braddock & Brian Miller
Publisher: Girl Twirl Comics
Price: $15 US

Three years ago, I was entertained and amused by a science-fiction graphic novel that was unlike other sci-fi books. Low on visual detail but packed with fun and intelligent ideas, The Martian Confederacy proved to be a great read. I was thrilled when the creators touched base recently and gave me a sneak peek of their followup effort. The same characters are back in this sequel, but the premise shifts considerably when the plot takes them off Mars and into new socio-political circumstances. But what really drives the story forward is the relationship between the two main protagonists, which serves as an amusing, saucy conflict, given Boone’s playboy attitude. Also charming is the artwork, which is far simpler in tone that one usually finds in a science-fiction comic book or graphic novel.

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Road Trip

The Road to God Knows… original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Von Allan
Publisher: Von Allan Studio
Price: $12.95

When it comes to the slice-of-life genre in comics, there’s a rich vein of storytelling strength to be found in independent and self-published works. Often, writers and artists starting out in the medium wisely stick with what they know rather than delve into fantasy or action stories. Von Allan is one such creator, who offers up a period piece about an awkward teenage girl who’s lost in her own life. Marie’s struggle to find herself or any happiness in difficult and painful circumstances is normally the kind of story I love to see from indy creators, but the plotting here is incredibly slow. Furthermore, the conflicts don’t seem to go anywhere.

There’s certainly a heartfelt tone to the writing, and as a Canadian, it was fun to see cultural elements unique to the Great White North incorporated into the script. Ultimately, though, I think the creator would have benefitted from some strong editing and guidance. Furthermore, while it’s easy to see that Von Allan has strived to establish a realistic look in the artwork, he needs to work on perspective and anatomy.

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War Games

Drone #1
Writer/Editor: Scott Chitwood
Artist/Cover artist: Randy Kintz
Colors: Garry Henderson
Letters: Troy Peteri
Publisher: Red 5 Comics
Price: $3.50 US

I rented one of the Call of Duty video games for the Wii a few months back. While I enjoy a good first-person shooter, I’ve always found that the guys who play those online war games get way too good at them, which makes the multi-player mode of such games a less-than-fun experience for more casual players such as myself. So while I have a general disinterest in such war games, I have to give the guys at Red 5 Comics credit for developing a comic book that explores the implications of the gaming generation on a military industrial complex that’s becoming more and more intertwined in technology in the 21st century. Writer Scott Chitwood examines the natural evolution of warfare and technology with the notion of a remote-controlled soldier. Artist Randy Kintz’s style is more in keeping with the grounded-gamer connection than the grisly nature of warfare, but it works pretty well, despite the lack of definition. Overall, Drone is solidly entertaining, exceeding its seemingly superficial, generic qualities with a good premise that’s intelligently executed.

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Times with Orange

Blood Orange mini-comic
Writer: Justin Giampaoli
Artist: Grant Lee
Publisher: June Lake Press
No price listed

Reviewing comics affords me the opportunity to sample material (a) of which I might have been unaware, (b) in which I may not have had an initial interest or (c) to which I might not have had access. Blood Orange falls under the latter category, as mini-comics tend not to see wide distribution. This one (out of California, I think) is a slice-of-life story based on a poignant premise. That being said, writer Justin Giampaoli and artist Grant Lee offer up some awkward storytelling. It’s an interesting foray into amateur comics craft, and when one looks at Giampaoli’s previous dabblings in the medium, one can see that his writing has evolved over time.

A mother and father struggle as they reach a dark turning point in their lives, and while they don’t know they’ll get through it, they are determined to do so. Weighing on their minds more than anything else, though, is how to broach the subject with their young son, who will no doubt be unable to understand the family’s plight. Instead, father and son go outside and pick oranges from the tree growing in the front yard. The boy spends the next week blissfully unaware of the problems with which his parents must contend as they shelter him from the storm in their lives.

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You Don’t Flow, ‘Jack

Razorjack: Collection Edition softcover trade paperback
Writer/Artist: John Higgins
Colors: John Higgins, Sam Hart, Rod Reis & Sally Hurst
Letters: Eddie Deighton
Editors: Craig Johnson, Eddie Deighton & Benjamin Shahrabani
Publisher: Com.X
Price: $12.99 US/8.99 UK

I’d never heard tell of Razorjack when this review copy turned up in my mailbox, but I am familiar with the work of writer/artist John Higgins. His name has been popping up a lot in the industry as of late, as this year’s release of the Watchmen film have sparked many to recall that Higgins was the original colorist on the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comic-book series. But no one should make the mistake of thinking of him only in that context. While I’m not familiar with much of his UK work, Higgins was one of the cornerstone creators involved in various Vertigo titles from DC earlier in the imprint’s history. With that in mind, I approached this work with some anticipation. While I admired the mad intensity of the story and art, Razorjack is a confusing mish-mash of genres and plotlines jammed into too-few chapters.

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From the Small Press (Really Small)

Silber Media mini-comics
Writer: Brian John Michell
Artists: Andrew White, Brian John Michell, Kimberlee Traub & Melissa Spence Gardner
Publisher: Silber Media
Price: $1 US each ($2 international)

I get a few comics in the mail for review purposes, but I found something in my mail a couple of weeks ago that was unlike the typical review package. It was a standard business-sized envelope, not the usual big envelope I often find. Inside I found a folded 8.5×11 information sheet and five tiny packets. Five little plastic sleeves (the kind I imagine is normally used to distribute personal amounts of cocaine) each contained a single a mini-comic — much more mini than the typical mini-comic. We’re talking about comics no bigger than large postage stamps. Writer Brian John Michell offers a diverse array of material — a western, a surreal story of murder of conspiracy, a Dexter-esque crime comic and an autobiographical, journal-like title — that make for surprisingly engaging reads. It’s surprising in part because the artwork for all of these projects is amateurish in tone, but Michell’s scripts are solid. Thumbing through these tiny comics with my meaty mitts was a bit of a pain in the ass, but it was an inconvenience that was ultimately worthwhile.

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It’s Grrrrrrreat!

Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! Volume One hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Scott Morse
Publisher: Red Window/AdHouse Books
Price: $14.95 US

I’ve been a fan of Scott Morse’s work — both creator-owned (such as Ancient Joe) and work for hire (Batman: Room Full of Strangers) — for several years now. I’ve missed a couple of his more recent efforts because the smaller hardcover books struck me as being a bit too expensive. Such is not the case with Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!. this oversized hardcover is well worth the marked price and more. Morse brings his usual surreal but cute style to bear once again, but this time, there’s a much more personal and revealing tone to his work, The creator exposes himself, sharing his hears, insecurities and hopes with his audience, and his unique art instills a magical quality to his heartfelt emotions and the mundane backdrop of the real world.

It takes a certain degree of confidence and ego to be an artist of any stripe as one has to believe that one’s creations merit an audience. But artist Scott Morse reveals that he often feels as lost as the rest of us. He’s struggling to live a good life, to be a good father. The world around him and the people in it can be frustrating, even infuriating, but when he pauses, he can see the wonder in the quieter, everyday moments as well.

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100 Panels of Solitude

The Deformitory original graphic novella
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Sophia Wiedeman
Publisher: Heart Monster Press
Price: $6 US

The folks at the Xeric Foundation, which provides grants for unknown or up-and-coming comics creators to produce new work, have a great eye for unusual and interesting fare, so when I get a chance to peruse the work of a Xeric recipient, I jump at the chance. Writer/artist Sophia Wiedeman sent along this cute, somewhat disturbing and definitely thought-provoking collection of unusual character studies. The meaning of each character’s journey of self-discovery isn’t always entirely clear, but they’re all engaging. I’d describe The Deformitory is something of a high-end, black-and-white mini-comic, but its digest-size format and the simple qualities of the artwork can’t hide the intelligence, empathy and creativity that abound on each on every page. Wiedeman’s cartoony and organic style, which employed to bring deformed or even grotesque characters to life, nevertheless instills in those figures beauty and vulnerability. The creator also explores different storytelling techniques, at times playing with a wordless approach and at others using bizarre dialogues to tell a story and expose a character’s true, inner self.

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Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Bradford coverSlemons coverRobot 13: Colossus! #1
Writer: Thomas Hall
Artist: Daniel Bradford
Cover artists: Daniel Bradford/Jeff Slemons
Publisher: Blacklist Studios
Price: $3 US/$4 CAN

Sometimes, it pays for comic shops to have sharp staff members who know comics and know their customers’ tastes. That’s how this particular comic book came to my attention. My local comic shop was so supportive of this indy effort that it ordered more copies of this book than many DC and Marvel releases that were on the stand beside it. I can see why. Robot 13, both the title and the character, boasts the same kind of appeal and cachet that made Hellboy and Atomic Robo such successes (to varying degrees, of course) in the comics industry. Robot 13 was definitely inspired by Mignola’s work, especially when it comes to the visuals. Some might argue Robot 13 is redundant in light of the publication of those other properties, but I was thoroughly entertained and amused, not to mention dazzled by the macabre design for the title character.

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The Degradation of Church and State

Project H original softcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist: Brandon Carstens
Publisher: Wonjoolaai Studios
Price: $16.95 US

Comics are an international medium, popular the world over, obviously. When one thinks of the medium in a global sense, though, the terms “American comics,” “Euro-comics” and manga come to mind readily. South Africa certainly doesn’t make that short list, so it was with interest that I delved into this graphic novel by South African creator Brandon Carstens. To my pleasure, I found that South African culture factored heavily into this murder mystery/conspiracy story. Even better was Carstens’s exploration of the notions of faith and secular thinking and how they affect the manner in which a society functions. He touches upon the conflict between nostalgia for simpler times and the undeniable power of new technologies have over the 21st-century consciousness. There’s no denying that Carstens’s ideas are challenging and engaging. Unfortunately, his storytelling skills distract from those ideas. There’s a lot of great potential to be found in this graphic novel, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired. I suspect Carstens would be well-served by working an editor and polishing his line art.

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Winter Blues

Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales
Writer/artist/cover artist: J.T. Yost
Publisher: Birdcage Bottom Books
Price: $6.95 US

Self-published comics are often one of the richest sources of different ideas and unique storytelling in the comic-book industry. Whereas corporate comics are inextricably mired in maintaining the status quo, creators who are answerable only to themselves have the freedom to do, say or depict anything they want. Disappointing forays into self-publishing can be those that don’t avail themselves of that freedom or those whose creators lack the skills to match their passion for the medium. This anthology from writer/artist J.T. Yost is no disappointment. It’s one of those examples of the new and the different and the unique. The main story, from which the book derives its title, is a wonderfully touching and melancholy study of a difficult and awkward phase of life. That story — a new work from the creator — is honest and down to earth. The rest of the material in this anthology was previously published, but chances are you’re like me and are unfamiliar with all of the stories. While “Old Man Winter” is relatable and straightforward, Yost’s approach in the other stories is more unconventional and experimental in tone. Yost, in this Xeric award-supported book, demonstrates a diversity of style, subject matter and emotion that proves that he’s a well-rounded and skilled storyteller.

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They Gave Me a Loaner While Mine’s in the Shop

Jan’s Atomic Heart original graphic novella
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Simon Roy
Publisher: New Reliable Press
Price: $5.95 US

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of New Reliable Press. I’d never heard tell of comics creator Simon Roy. And I certainly never heard of Jan’s Atomic Heart before, so when the publisher provided an advance preview of the book for review, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. That probably enhanced my appreciation of this book, as it kept surprising me. At first, I didn’t realize it was science-fiction, even with the cues on the cover, as the opening sequence dances around the sci-fi premise. As I continued to read, I enjoyed the writer’s unconventional examination of friendship, so much so that I didn’t see where he was leading me with convincing and provoking background details of a political and military nature. Jan’s Atomic Heart is both incredibly grounded and mind-blowing in its originality. It’s touching and frightening. Roy has crafted a compelling story that’s relevant and relatable, and if that’s not enough, he brings it to life with inventive designs and a slightly rough style that brings out the humanity even in characters that doubt their own humanity. The fact that this book is being published by a lesser-known outfit will mean this book will likely fly under a lot of readers’ radar, but Jan’s Atomic Heart merits a lot of attention from a lot of people.

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Cut to the Chaser

Soul Chaser Betty original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist/Publisher: Brian “BMan” Babendererde
Price: $14.95 US

This graphic novel’s been sitting on My Big Pile of Books for Review(TM) for some time now, and I have to admit that my delay in picking it up and reading it stems mainly from the fact that its creator is clearly inspired by manga concepts and style. I’m not the biggest fan of manga, though there are a few high-quality books that have won me over in the past. Soul Chaser Betty isn’t one of those rare, mind-blowing books, but as I began to read it, I found a capably crafted, solidly presented piece of Amerimanga…. at first. The further one delves into Brian Babendererde’s book, the more it becomes cluttered with formulaic elements. While the creator developed a solid premise, cast of characters and a look that are clearly in keeping with the tastes of the manga niche market and used them as the foundation for this project, his tendency to keep adding and adding and adding to his mythology overburdens the storytelling. At best, Babendererde is guilty of having too many ideas and characters floating around in his head and failing to hold some of them in. At worst, he’s tried to incorporate as many stereotypical genre elements as possible in an effort to come up with a winning, magic combination, not in the name of storytelling but promotional efforts.

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Pull Sword A from Slot B in Rock C

Arthur: The Legend Continues #1
“Dawn”
Writer: Martin T. Pierro
Artist: Cristhian Zamora
Letters: Percival Constantine
Cover artist: Atula Siriwardane
Editor: Connie Voss
Publisher: Cosmic Times
Price: $3.50 US

One of the mistakes that some indy creators make (and let’s be honest, some of the big publishers make it as well) is dedicating so much of their time and precious resources to ideas and plot premises that have been explored as thoroughly and frequently as Wilt Chamberlain’s nether regions. Writer Martin Pierro has opted to tell the story of the return of King Arthur in a far-flung, dark time at which he’s needed the most. It’s hardly cutting-edge genre fiction. I suppose one could argue that there’s an established audience for this sort of fare, but I can’t help but believe that new, unknown creators would earn more attention by exploring more unconventional territory. Still, the creators’ passion for what they’re doing here shines through in the material, but that’s not enough to hide the awkward pacing and figures.

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Voyage to a Parallel Girl

Dean Koontz’s: Nevermore #1
Writer: Keith Champagne
Artist/Cover artist: Andy Smith
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Editor: Derek Ruiz
Publisher: Dabel Bros. Publishing
Price: $3.99 US

All I really know of the Dabel Brothers is that they have something of a spotty business reputation in the industry. Of course, that shouldn’t have a bearing on the quality of the work they publish, so I approached this latest endeavor with some curiosity. Dabel Bros. Publishing has hired a couple of mainstays of mainstream super-hero comics — not industry stars, but reliable talents — to bring this Dean Koontz property to life. Overall, it’s fair typical science-fiction fare, but it’s executed well. While there’s really not a lot of suspense at play given the familiar nature of the premise, the capable pacing and action draw the reader into the story. Similarly, while the art and designs won’t set the comic world on fire, they’re handled adeptly, telling the story clearly.

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