Category Archives: Reviews – Indy/Small Press

Architectural Digesting

The Architect original graphic novella
Writer: Mike Baron
Artist/Cover artist: Andie Tong
Colors: Mike Kilgore
Letters: Scott Bieser
Publisher: Big Head Press
Price: $9.95 US

Mike Baron is an award-winning comics writer with whom newer readers might not be familiar, and to be honest, I don’t think I’ve read a lot of his work either. I’ve read precious little of The Badger, the character for which he is best known, and there hasn’t been that much Nexus material available in recent years either. I’ve probably most familiar with Baron as the first writer to take The Flash when the title was relaunched in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths in the late 1980s, featuring the Wally West incarnation of the character. With this small-press project, Baron clearly demonstrates that he’s comfortable as a writer outside the super-hero genre. The Architect is an entertaining horror story, and with it, Baron shows that he has a soft spot for the horror comics of yesteryear and cheesy but amusing horror flicks as well. The plot hinges on a lot of coincidences, but they work within the context of the supernatural elements of the plot. Where this project goes awry is with its visuals. British artist Andie Tong offers some solid work here, but his style strikes me as a poor match for the darker tone for which the story strives.

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Do You Believe in Magic?

Levitation: Physics and Psychology in the Service of Deception original graphic novella
Writer: Jim Ottaviani
Artist/Cover artist: Janine Johnston
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Publisher: GT Labs
Price: $12.95 US

Writer Jim Ottaviani is well known in the comics industry for his passion for bringing the history of science to life in sequential storytelling. No one else really does what he does, and even if there were others, I doubt they could do it any better. Levitation is one of two releases this week from his independent GT Labs publishing outfit, and it stands out as a fascinating read. Ottaviani has timed this graphic novella well. With the films The Illusionist and The Prestige still fresh in the pop-culture consciousness, there will no doubt be a greater interest in his history of stage magicians from the late 1800s and early 20th century. Janine Johnston’s artwork certainly captures a sense of the historic here but has a wondrous quality at work as well. Ottaviani crafts a story that not only conveys the cold, hard facts but one that explores the personalities involved. He blends his approach to history with a respect for the legends to which it gave rise. Though the book is a bit pricy for a 72-page volume, there’s no denying that the storytelling is magical.

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Poison Pens

Poison: The Cure #1
“Chapter One”
Writer: Jad Ziade
Artist/Cover artist: Alex Cahill
Publisher: New Radio Comics
Price: $9 US

The last time I came across Alex Cahill’s sequential storytelling was in the odd and frustrating graphic novella The Last Island. It was something of a storytelling experiment, as it explored the notion of a silent parable in comic-book form. It was intriguing but ultimately didn’t appeal to me. With this latest project, Cahill steps aside and lets someone else do the writing, and the wordless approach is cast aside as well. Poison the Cure seems on the surface to be something of a take on an environmental cautionary tale, but in reality, it’s more about the ethics of legitimate rebellion. Writer Jad Ziade explores pits the concept of non-violent protest against protection of self and others by any means necessary. What makes the story interesting are the more grounded moments the characters share, but interfering with the effectiveness of that side of the story are the science-fiction elements. It’s not at all clear why the framing sequence, set in the future, is necessary, and the sci-fi side of the main story is so subtle that I wonder why it was included as well. Poison the Cure is certainly an ambitious project with plenty of potential, but the execution feels a bit off.

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Paradise Lost

Strangers in Paradise #90
Writer/Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Terry Moore
Publisher: Abstract Studios
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

My one-time reviewing partner Randy Lander introduced me to the world of Strangers in Paradise a few years ago, and I was immediately drawn into Terry Moore’s unique love story. Predominantly about a romantic triangle, the story also boasted crime-story elements, sitcom-like humor and even a touch of espionage-genre intrigue. I followed the series religiously for a while, even during its stint at Image Comics, but eventually, it felt as though nothing was getting resolved. After a move and a missed issue or two, I lost touch with the title altogether. With the release of its final issue, though, I jumped at the chance to revisit these characters and see the ultimate culmination of Moore’s vision for his cherished characters, Katchoo, Francine and David. This concluding issue held a couple of surprises, but more importantly, it offered exactly the sort of ending I would imagine fans desired. In some ways, Moore’s wrap-up seems too neat. The ever-after proves to be a little too happy. On the other hand, there’s such a pure, hopeful tone to the script that one can’t help but become infected by the joy. As enjoyable as the ending is, what’s most impressive is the series as a whole. Terry Moore is to be applauded for delivering this title consistently and reliably for so many years, all on his own.

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Keep Your Eyes on the Road

Red Eye, Black Eye original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: K. Thor Jensen
Publisher: Alternative Comics
Price: $19.95 US

A casual perusal of this website might lead one to believe that I’m a fiend for super-hero comics, and that genre alone in the medium. That’s not the case. Though I love the feelings of wonder and nostalgia that super-heroes stir up inside me, I really enjoy comics that challenge me and provoke introspection. That’s a domain that the world of small-press and indy comics do better than the larger publishers, and Red Eye, Black Eye is a shining example. Cartoonist K. Thor Jensen boasts an artistic style that one could describe as crude, but it’s remarkably effective at bringing his grounded memoir of an adventure on the road to life. This autobio comic rings incredibly true, because some of the main character’s experiences lead nowhere while others have more of an explosive quality. The central point to Jensen’s overall narrative is a bit elusive at first, but it seemed to become crystal clear by the issue’s end. To me, Jensen says life is meant to be a series of one’s own stories, of dramatic and unusual moments, good or bad, but that they can only happen if one actively seeks them out (even if it’s unknowingly).

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Comfortably Numb

Numb
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Joshua Kemble
Letters: Joshua Patterson
Publisher: Kemble/Alternative Comics
Price: $3.95 US

Any writer who’s sat staring at a blank piece of paper or a blank screen, unable to come up with a spark of an idea or a beginning to fan a spark into a creative flame will recognize himself or herself in this short comic’s lead character. On the surface, this story seems to be about the challenges of writing and creativity and how life provides both obstacles and incentives for that work. But really, this is about the challenges of self, of how one can one’s own worst enemy, and not just when it comes to writing. I found it surprisingly easy to connect with this self-pitying protagonist, and Kemble’s artwork matches the reflective, self-indulgent mood of the script quite well. Numb is actually the result of another Xeric grant and another example of how those doling out those grants have a sharp eye for up-and-coming, indy talent. Kemble’s work has a solid promotional effort behind, with a bit of buzz already generated online. As such, this is hardly a new discovery, but I still felt the excitement of being exposed to a new creative voice in the medium.

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Phone Home? Nah, E.T.’ll Blackberry Instead

Ed’s Terrestrials original graphic novel
Writer: Scott Christian Sava
Artist: Diego Jourdan
Publisher: Blue Dream Studios
Price: $19.99 US

A quick look at the spine of my review copy of this book and a subsequent Google-ing of the title reveals that this was originally supposed to be (or originally was) an Alias Entreprises release, but creator Scott Christian Sava has given it new life by publishing under his Blue Dream Studios banner. I’ve enjoyed Sava’s work in the past. Some may remember him from his outing with Marvel Comics — the Spider-Man: Quality of Life limited series — but I prefer to think of him as the writer/artist/creator of The Lab, a goofy, cartoon-inspired workplace comedy. This project is a children’s book, first and foremost, but it’s crafted as a comic, not the usual illustrated text that tends to characterize children’s literature. Ed’s Terrestrials is a light romp, with a familiar premise and artwork that suits the tone of the story but falls short with an oversimplified sense of design.

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Boy Meets Squirrel

Raised by Squirrels trade paperback
Writers/Artists/Cover artists: Bram Meehan & Monica Banko Meehan
Publisher: Dream Weaver Press
Price: $4.95 US

The first thing that struck me about this book — and the first thing that would make an impact on anyone, I would imagine — is the title. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this indy title, but I imagined it was either a slice-of-life story or some kind of surreal comedy. It turns out it’s neither. Raised by Squirrels is an amalgam of the espionage and super-hero genres. The book gets its title from the name of the government agency that employs and deals with metahuman agents — S.Q.R.L. — but man, it’s just doesn’t suit the book. That’s just one of several problems with the book, but the creators also hit their mark in some regards. Chief among them is how they use narration and greytones to achieve a dark, tense atmosphere. This is a better spy book than super-hero story, and despite the awkward pacing, I found I was interested in the story. And that’s in light of the somewhat cliched plot. The art is rather unusual. At first glance, it seems a bit loose, just on the edge of being abstract, but ultimately, it’s stiff and a bit plain.

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Now with Kung-Fu Gripe

Action Figure; From the Journals of Richard Marzelak #1
“Late”
Writer/Artist/Cover Artist: Richard Marcej
Publisher: Baboon Books
Price: $3.50 US/$4.40 CAN

Commercial artist Richard Marcej has long dreamed of a life in which he earns a living as a comic-strip artist, freed from the shackles of a job with a major toy/greeting card company. He has taken those dreams and aspirations, as well as his anger and frustrations, and focused them into a slice-of-life comic that’s autobiographical (for the most part). Anyone who works in a restrictive office environment or who spends his or her offtime working on what he or she really loves will be able to relate to Marcej’s story. Unfortunately, the overall tone of this introductory issue is so negative that it’s a bit off-putting, even when one can relate to the main character’s bitterness.

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Adrenaline Junkies

Adrenaline #1
Writer: Tyler Chin-Tanner
Pencils/Colors/Cover artist: James Boyle
Inks/Letters: Fabio Redivo
Editor: Wendy Chin-Tanner
Publisher: A Wave Blue World Inc.
Price: $2.99 US

This small-press comic’s title tells the reader nothing of what to expect from it, and the cover art isn’t much help either. That makes the novelty of the premise to be found within all the more surprising. This first of eight issues is the setup for a competition between the villain and a reluctant heroine. The machinations to arrive at that premise are somewhat far-fetched, but I was surprised at how much I was drawn in by the international flavor and the strengths of the two main characters. This comic looks and feels like something we’d see from Devil’s Due Publishing, and honestly, I think it would appeal to that high-adventure, high-action fanbase. There’s potential in this book, but it’s not really in the premise. Instead, the potential lies in the skills of the creators and their room for development.

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Simple Minds, Silly Answers

Dr. DeBunko: The Short Stories
Writer/Artist: Chris Wisnia
Editor: Rob Oder
Publisher: Salt Peter Press
Price: $3.95 US

This one-shot from the people who brought you the semi-regular Tabloia series collects a number of short comic segments from that book featuring a professional debunker of “supernatural” phenomena. As the title character’s name suggests, this is hardly the sort of thing one takes seriously. The only real mystery that creator Chris Wisnia explores here is the mystery of why so many people are so stupid, gullible and hypocritical. If old wives’ tales drive you crazy, if Republicans who refuse to believe in evolution, global warming and Halliburton’s greed enrage you and gender-based pay inequity makes you want to pull out your nose hairs, then chances are you’ll connect with the title character’s efforts and frustrations.

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The Doctor Is Id

Dr. Id, Psychologist of the Supernatural
Writer: Adam McGovern
Artist/Cover artist: Paolo Leandri
Publisher: Indie Ink Studios
Price: $2 US (ashcan)/$2.95 US (comic)

This mini-comic showed up in mailbox not long ago, but it turns out it’s not a mini-comic, but a preview ashcan of a standard-sized comic due for release later this fall.  A superficial glance led me to believe that this was another amateur effort, full of energy and love for the medium but low on skill.  But a closer look revealed the opposite.  Dr. Id is an odd marriage of satire, offering sendups of Silver Age comics storytelling and touchy-feely pseudo-psychology of the 21st century.  That two-pronged appeal is the property’s greatest strength, giving it two chances to connect with readers.

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