FRIENDS IN SMALL PRESSES (PART TWO)
Last week I ticked off the first five of ten reading recommendations I can't help but share. These are creators I've met at conventions who are or should be on the verge of breaking through the business to get their comics in your hands. I'm acting as the middle man letting you know they're out there and that you should order their stuff, or demand it be stocked at your local comic book shop. Here are my last five recommendations... and they're gooooood.
5 - CHO5EN: GRIZZ
At this year’s Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con we didn’t get much of a view. We teamed up with our friends at Bear Claw Comics to fill a corner exhibitor booth, the biggest presence you can have, really. While it was impressive, it left us exiled from the other creators we were used to seeing in Artists’ Alley. The only thing we had to stare at for hours on end was a giant, flat-screen TV playing images from a series called Cho5en, on repeat. We also got to see the ambitious and aggressive strategy employed by William Dickstein and his team of volunteers. Oh yeah, and the intimidating number of sales they accrued.
Cho5en sold because their strategy was solid. But it also sold because it’s good. Damn good.
Cho5en is more than a comic book. It’s a universe. Here’s the description from William’s website, AuthorWillDickstein.net:
“In the not too distant future, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics map out a gene given the markers of Ch05En.
The Fate Gene.
A latent Ch05En gene destines someone for greatness. Maybe you'll be a rock star, or CEO of a Fortune 500. You might save somebody's life or give birth to the greatest supporting actress of all time.
Maybe you'll be a superhero.
Those with powers are often recruited into the Global Heroes Society to become Capes. They are our protectors in a world of infinite possibilities.
A world where the terrorist organization known as The Aggregate live to instill fear into the masses, and Freelancers use their powers for personal gain, often at the cost of others.
In the world of Ch05En, we're one suddenly-activated Fate Gene away from total salvation...
Or complete annihilation.”
Cho5en’s beginning is a series of prose you can find at Will’s website. This is where you’ll find the bulk of this universe and these characters. The first novella dropped in January of 2014. The graphic novel, subtitled “Grizz,” was brand new when we laid eyes on it. It was Will’s first convention in fact!
The story follows a character named Grizz (you might have guessed) who spins out of the novella. He’s one part James Bond, one part Wolverine, and he’s compelling as Hell. The story opens with his teenage origin and builds layer upon layer as his background, and the stakes, escalate. As we follow the story of Grizz’s life we meet a large cast of interesting characters with unique power sets and personalities. I’m a big fan of obscure character names because I like the way it heightens a world, and this book has an abundance. Names like Vas, Kush, and Aviv are thrown around without a second thought and it just adds to the over-the-top fun this comic can be. The art is cool, the twists are plentiful, and the story is solid. I also love and applaud the nonchanlance of sexuality and minority dropped throughout.
I’m looking forward to future works from this writer and I encourage you to geek out on this universe.
4 - BILLY THE PYRO
I met Brad Burdick at the now-defunct Big WOW! convention in San Jose in 2015. We talked at-length about his series, Billy the Pyro. He was running out of the first (and only printed, if I recall) issue of the series, which had turned into a series of trades after it was picked up by his publisher. The first trade raised $5,642 on Kickstarter and was one of the "Kickstarter Staff Picks."
The first issue of Billy the Pyro is, without a doubt, a character piece, setting up Billy as a teenager wrestling with his share of angst, abuse, and aggravation while coming to grips with the control it will require to keep his abilities as a pyrokinetic at bay. The art utilizes a balance of thin and thick ink lines to really capture a “comic book” feel, while the story balances its fantasy with Billy’s dark day-to-day well. There’s also a wonderful design to the issue overall, ending with an intriguing inside cover featuring half the logo of the mysterious G.A.P.R.I. organization splattered with ink.
This issue expresses real restraint in storytelling, opting for a long-form, slow-burn I really respect. If you’ve read my Shivertown series it’s my chosen style as a writer as well. I have the highest hopes for this series, and I’ll be ordering the trade by the end of the year to fill the hole left by regret at not buying it that day in San Jose. (Oh, and watch for the adorable cameo by the cast of The IT Crowd)
3 - CITY OF MITH
At Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con this year I met two of the nicest guys in comics. Apollo Villa-Real and Larry Ridlen are the creators and writers of City of Mith, one of the most natural small-press comic books I’ve ever read. This is a story that should always have been. It just makes sense. When you put down the first issue you think to yourself, “Wait, this hasn’t been done before? These guys need to call Vertigo… NOW.”
Detective Mith is the one non-powered person in a city FULL of superpowers. In Mith City there are two types of people: Ultras and Munds. Ultras have world-saving abilities that qualify them for the police force, while Munds can spit water in torrents or turn their hands into squeegees. Detective Mith is trying to piece together his past after a coma seemingly wipes out his memory. Add to this a layer of mystery regarding his relationship to Impervion, a Superman analogue whose identity and status are part of the mystery, and you have one Hell of an intriguing pilot.
This series is billed as the prequel to a screenplay. I have no idea where that script could possible start or what story it could cover because THIS is the story that needs to be told and it begins just when it needs to.
Check it out at cityofmith.com!
2 - RED GIANT
At Big WOW! in San Jose last year we made some good friends. The best friends you make at conventions tend to be the people to your left and your right, your neighbors, because you spend hours every day at their side searching for things to talk about. Rich Foster, creator of Red Giant, was on our left.
Rich has the right strategy when it comes to comics: just keep churning out #1’s until you find what interests people. Red Giant is one of a handful of comics we talked about that day, it’s just the one that stuck with me the most. The cover hooked me immediately with a man(?) wearing green fur, standing in the snow, pointing off in the distance, with a snow pick in his hand tipped in blood. It’s a stunning image illustrated perfectly.
The Baron leads a city housed in a tall slender building in an icy tundra called Sky Tower. He is waited on by his own creation, The Green Bunny, who is revealed in a very cool technical cutaway to be a stuffed rabbit with recycled human internal organs. For the people of Sky Tower the threat of the Red Giant looms and The Baron has decided to do something about it. He assembles an interesting and captivating team of characters to join him in his quest to leave the city and stop the Red Giant. I know you think you know where this is going, but you don’t. When you reach the point in the story that sheds light on the cover you feel sick. Your chills have to have come from somewhere.
As a writer I’m generally driven by two things: dialogue and story. While this comic doesn’t lack in either of those departments, it’s really the art that stands out. This comic book is beautiful. The city and the constructs are squared off and sharp, very precise, but are drawn with a messy, inky edge that betrays what I should have known going in: this book isn’t what it seems. The style of storytelling reminds me a lot of Jonathan Hickman in that design seems to fold into the story and the narrative to the point they’re indistinguishable.
Rich is currently illustrating issue 3 of Red Giant. I’m not past the first issue yet, but what I’ve seen from his blog looks like this series doesn’t have a sophomore slump. You can keep up at rfcomics.com.
(c) 2016 The Henry Farm
1 - SITCOMICS
"Sitcomics" isn’t one comic, it’s actually a label/publisher created by Darin Henry. Darin is a writer with credits like Seinfeld, Muppets Tonight, and KC Undercover. With his line of Sitcomics he’s taken his experience writing in television and applied it to comic books in a fun and revolutionary way. Each series in the Sitcomics line-up is treated like a TV show. Each issue is referred to as an “episode,” they’re self-contained so you don’t need to buy six issues to get the whole story, and they come complete with a unique rating system utilizing a clock to reflect what time slot the show would occupy on a major network.
THE BLUE BARON is a comic about a 13-year-old boy who switches brains with a 300-year-old superhero called The Blue Baron (think Captain America but swap World War II for The Revolutionary War). This book features art by Ron freaking Frenz and Sal gosh darn Buscema of classic Marvel comics like West Coast Avengers and What If?! (Of course I reference my two favorite classics)
TELEPATHETIC has a real Disney Channel tween show vibe. It’s about three middle schoolers who figure out how to interact telepathically and discover another plane of existence within their mutual minds.
SUPER SUCKERS is True Blood through the lens of Beverly Hills 90210 and drawn by legendary Archie artist Lonnie Milsap. The conceit of this Sitcomic is that vampirism is an STD that can be “caught,” and two otherwise normal girls struggle with their new diagnosis while maneuvering through a soap-opera worthy cast and drama.
STARTUP is a superhero story about an overweight and downtrodden mom who adopts superpowers and a secret identity with no idea what to do with them. She has to count on her geeky son to guide her in her adventures.
These comics are a hoot. They’re well-done, well-drawn, and their creator was a highlight for my fiancee and I to spend time with at this year’s Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con. These are only four of the series from this writer and this line-up, and he shows no sign of stopping. Keep an eye on Sitcomics at sitcomics.net!