A Big Day Out For Park

Posted: Wednesday, May 10, 2000
By: Park Cooper

Cover of A Big Day Out For Park

Most of this text is going to talk about comics I got at Pittsburgh Con, but first, I recently decided to take advantage of Matt Feazell's web-order special-- roughly 25 minicomics for 10 bucks, which included shipping and handling. I am pleased with this deal. Matt Feazell, if you don't know, does Cynicalman, and a good job he does of it too. In this package was 11 parts of the "Death of Anti-Social Man" storyline, an autobiographical minicomic by Pam Bliss, Matt's "Understanding Minicomics: The Art and Science of Stick Figures", and lots of Cynicalman and Cute Girl. First-rate minicomics at a bargain.

At Pittsburgh Con, I got a lot of indie comics, and I've finally managed to read most of them.

First, an anthology called DARK TIME from Strumhaus Creative. It's brand new, and the date on the issue is April 2000. I'll put all addresses and contact information at the end.

Basically, Dark Time is a black & white anthology. There's "Fourier College", which is some sort of horror story. It had an interesting dream sequence, though the art was a little cheesecakey. Still, it wasn't bad. Then there was "Khozayain Protocol," some sort of spy/action thriller thing. Next was "Storm House", which was some sort of fantasy story with guys slinging magic etc. The inside front and back covers had eight panels of "Trappings of Flesh," which feels like it's going to be some sort of futuristic space-opera (or sci-fi earth opera, at least).

What I liked best, though, was a piece that wasn't in their table of contents-- called "The Creators," it was just the creators and their friends crossing over with various characters from their favorite comics... mostly Bill Willingham's Elementals (so I kind of like their taste), Speed Racer, with an art style that looks almost suspiciously Matt Wagner Mage-esque. The plot is that sinister hooded figures seek to control the creators of Dark Time, but they can't. The creators don't give in because the hooded beings, as a result of their manipulations, suck the life and inspiration out of their icons, and so the creators, who have chosen the slow, indie route to artistic success, shall be triumphant.

The art in Dark Time isn't bad, and the printing is high-quality. If there was such a thing as black & white prestige format, this might be it, so I'm pleased that they're only charging two dollars for this. My biggest complaint is that all of the stories get cut off before you can really get into them. Only "Storm House" was at all self-contained, and even it seemed way too short for me to understand what was going on. But I like these people and their attitude. If they keep it up and develop their abilities, they really WILL be on top of the industry when enough years have gone by. I hope they keep up their efforts.

Then we have issue #1 of ALIZARIN'S JOURNAL. It's from Avatar Press, and the price is $3.50. Alizarin is, surprisingly, the white American female title character. She writes in her journal, which is sort of the narrative tool used to tell the story. Alizarin's Journal is a moody sort of horror piece that mixes the feel of X-Files (without the feds) with the feel of Blair Witch (without the woods). (SPOILERS follow:) Alizarin's brother wakes up one day and someone has stolen his eyes during the night (and he didn't notice, somehow). Naturally, he bleeds to death. We're introduced to all the characters that we'll be working with in later issues, including Alizarin's pet guinea pig, Binky (whom I like). Basically, I suspect that at some point Alizarin, a parapsychologist, will start working on her brother's strange murder, but she's pretty much still in shock all of this issue. That's probably why the ghost of her brother advised her to get help on his one. He's back from the dead for some reason that may involve Alizarin's amulet that she put in his coffin at the funeral, though it had no special powers that she was aware of or anything.

The art on this black & white comic is amazingly good, almost photorealistic. However, the printing is poor. There's so much moody darkness on each page that you can't avoid getting it all over your fingers to a degree worse than a small college newspaper. Picky? Perhaps. I'll admit it. I suppose for an alternative publisher, Alizarin's Journal does okay... I would have rather they spent less time on the big art, especially in the back, and more time moving the story along, but perhaps the creator was/is paying for at least some of this himself, so I shouldn't be too judgemental. I would be willing to read another issue of Alizarin's Journal, but I don't know if I'd want to pay 3.50 for it... This is, however, probably one of the few tolerable things ever published by Avatar Press.

Next up from my current state of residence, we have three issues of COURAGEOUS MAN ADVENTURES by George Broderick, Jr. I rather liked these celebrations of the Silver Age. The comic often seems not to know whether to play this straight or purely for laughs, but this dilemma doesn't ruin the comic, since it works well enough either way. Courageous Man is your typical line-swinging hero of the night... He's a bit of Adam West, a bit of the Tick (who's also a bit of Adam West, if that tells you anything), and a bit of Errol Flynn. Courageous Man has wacky villains, a young sidekick named Spunky and a smartass butler who follows him around town toting the superhero equipment like a golf caddy. This is Silver Age hijinks at some of its best, because it's fairly fresh in its execution. I'd have to say I recommend this comic from Moordam Comics (read: self-published). If I had one complaint, it would be that the panels and lettering often seem kind of small and scrunched-up, but hey! The man's just trying to pack the stories in to give you your money's worth... It's highly forgivable.

Next, M.L. Walker's SMOKING GUNS. The cover of this black & white comic is nicely colored (it's not Laura DePuy, I'm just saying it makes for a nice touch). Judging it by its cover, I thought I had this title pegged before I opened it-- An indie title, with a lot of shooting and violence, lots of blood, a lot of testosterone... maybe kind of noir, and I like that one of the two main characters is African-American, but that's about it, and I know what to expect. Well I was WRONG. In opposition to its title, Smoking Guns would almost be all-ages except that the plot of this issue turns on the mayor of the city having an unfortunate one-night affair with a woman. By the time I was halfway through, I was really fond of this comic, and that opinion didn't change at the end. It's the story of two private detectives in the year 2039 who are hired to protect the incumbent mayor, etc etc... it's exciting and absorbing and I kind of got into it, frankly. I liked the story, the pacing, and the characterization. The story is NOT in-your-face about how this is the future, it just makes for cooler detective gizmos etc. At one point one of the private dicks catches two assassin's bullets in midair, which really isn't humanly possible, so one wonders if mechanical parts or special gloves or something is involved, but other than that, this comic is better constructed than most mainstream comics. If I happened to come across issue 2 of this title somewhere, I would buy it, and I would also pay the 2.95 for it. However, until I do, it's appearing weekly as a serial on Smoking Guns' website: www.RicochetGraphics.com

Finally, I discovered FORTY WINKS, published by Peregrine Press, and Peregrine's fantasy title, BOOKS OF LORE.

Forty Winks is the story of a little girl, Pandora, who learns to defend herself in the world of dreams. You'd think that this would be either a Sandman ripoff or a deeply over-cutesy concept. It's neither. In this world (and this is never explained 100%), nightmares seem to be the dark side of disturbed individuals that express themselves via the dream world. In dreams, you are as you most often imagine yourself, so human beings filled with hate manifest in dreams as nightmares. This is an immediate problem for Pandora as a nightmare monster starts messing with her life... With some help from her personal dream guide, she must find out who the nightmare is and why it's after her. I found the basic Forty Winks 4-part series to be a great all-ages read that doesn't bore one. It's got good supporting characters and a good plot.

But the winks don't stop there. In chronological order, there follows the FORTY WINKS SUPER SPECIAL EDITION: TV PARTY TONITE! one-shot, with Forty Winks version send-ups of The Green Hornet, The Prisoner, and The Patty Dukes Show... Excellent. Then there's the FORTY WINKS CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, which is actually kind of dark and just a bit dysfunctional (but realistic, I must say)... Then there's a three-part series, FORTY WINKS: THE FABLED PIRATE QUEEN OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA. In it, Pandora gets a new friend and we learn about her dreams, and we find out just how much the Forty Winks creators loved Disney's Mu Lan. Next, there's the FORTY WINKS/BUZZBOY crossover (if you don't know, Buzzboy is also an online superhero comic [that often wanders into surrealist territory] that we feature right here at SBC...). While at the con, I also was given a preview of the first part of the next part of the saga, FORTY WINKS: MR. HORRIBLE. This is the continuing story of the nightmare-person from the first series (though so far Pandora isn't in it at all), and it's pretty compelling so far. The art is really in a different style, too, but it feels right for this story. I recommend that you go get the first four-parter and see for yourself what you think. In my opinion, it's definitely exciting without being something that will really frighten younger kids, and the Forty Winks creators always have a great sense of fun.

Okay, I was pretty impressed by Forty Winks, so even though I normally wouldn't think that a straight fantasy, wizards-and-elves type of series could be original or interesting, I tried Peregrine's BOOKS OF LORE series. "The Kaynin Gambit" is a five-parter, with a zero issue and then 1-4. Then I read the first two parts of the BOOKS OF LORE: STORYTELLER trilogy, in which stories set in the BoL world are told using the characters who survived the Kaynin Gambit as frame story. This series actually is pretty good if you don't mind the usual half-elf, demon sorceror, blessings-and-curses-of-the-goddess sort of characters and details. There's a lot of influence from the Thieves' World fantasy anthology series, but that's not the worst thing in the world. The women are all very good-looking, but WITHOUT going so far as being Top Cow nigh-pornographic exaggerations of the female form. The breasts are noticably present, but these women aren't usually falling out of their clothes, either. I didn't expect to get through all five of the early issues, but the whole series kept me going all the way to the end, and in fact when I ran out I felt a little disappointed-- a VERY good sign. I'm an old hand at the fantasy genre, so I don't generally get all gosh-wow about daggers and magic like I used to, but that means that if you DO, you're going to love this series.

More information on reviewed comics:

Cynicalman etc: Matt Feazell, (one minicomic was by Pam [B-52] Bliss). Published by Not Available Comics.

Dark Time: Created by Brian Babyok, Eric Hess, Scott Hedlund, Barry Linck. Published by Sturmhaus Creative.

Alizarin's Journal: created by Matt Busch. Published by Avatar Press, Inc.

Courageous Man: Created by George Broderick, Jr. Published by Moordam Comics.

Smoking Guns: Created by M.L. Walker. Published by Richochet Graphics.

Forty Winks and Books of Lore: created by Vincent Sneed and John Peters, Vincent Sneed writes throughout the rest. Neal Patterson helped write the Christmas Special. Billy Martinez did the art for The Fabled Pirate Queen. John Gallagher helped create the Buzzboy crozzover. Levi Krause does the art for Mr. Horrible. Books of Lore created by Kevin Tucker, David Napoliello, Greg LaRocque, Philip Xavier. Both published by Peregrine Entertainment.

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