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Fablewood Anthology

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2008
By: Geoff Collins

Various with William Ward, editor
Various
Ape Entertainment
When I read about this book on Ape Entertainment’s Web site, I thought that this wasn’t so much a comic book as a collection of prose stories. Granted, I didn’t read the whole description, but I still went into it thinking short stories. However, it really is a comic book, not short prose stories. One story, “Mandala,” doesn’t even have words in it—just images. Most of the stories, however, have plenty of words and are narrator-driven.

The only thing that ties together the 13 stories is that they all fit into the fantasy genre. Vladmir Nabokov once said that all stories fit in fantasy, so even a conservative view of the genre gives a broad range of stories, which this book proves.

It has stories like the opener “Solace”--a short comic about dealing with death. It can be read to children but enjoyed by adults (but the former would probably be more interested). Though the characters don’t appear anything near human, they still act and speak more like people than what I expect to find in the superhero genre.

“A Viscious Circle” is definitely not for kids, though it’s not much of an adult read either. It threads the needle into something that would legitimately appeal to teenagers. The concept is very interesting--depicting a world where magic is very real, but outlawed in certain countries. The story likens its wannabe magicians to teenagers hanging out in the basement smoking and drinking, or however you want to describe teenagers doing something their parents don’t want them to do. There is a nice message in the story about being responsible when doing things that your parents don’t want you to do.

Most of the stories actually will appeal to older audiences. “Mandala,” which is the story that has no words in it, shows a young boy being snatched by a giant robot and forced into its helm in place of an old man who is left behind. It sounds a bit silly, but it’s high concept. The first half of it reads from front to back in the manner of Western writing, but the second half reads from back to front in the manner of Eastern writing.

The resultant circular reading is meant to mirror Eastern religious views that life and time are never ending cycles, not linear spans that start at point A and end at B. This view is similar to the allegory in the story itself. The robot in the story represents the time in life from entering the work world (and that can apply to even Middle School) to the time when people retire. I didn’t like it, but it’s interesting.

There are also many stories about heroes with swords being swung around and parts being chopped off. These tend to focus less on the chopping up and more on the practical applications of the story. For instance, “Die a Hero” is about a warrior who travels around looking for a fight, and then dies the first time s/he gets into one--which can apply to how readers might prioritize their goals and pursuits in life (sometimes for what may seem to others as frivolous).

Another example of a story that’s action-driven with a great message is “Blessings.” In this one, Achilles kills some people outside Troy and says something profound to one of them. Real short, real simple. Most of the panels show Achilles killing people in really cool ways. However, in the short span, the writer shows a deep knowledge of Greek mythology--and the message about the supposed unfairness of death really is nice.

A few stories are just fun without being profound such as “J’Nee, Where Are You?” and “The Ancient Pact.”

Every artist is very distinct from the others in this book. They can all fit into a style that is common within comics but, compared to each other, they’re nothing alike. Visually the art is better than the stories. Considering the flattery I’ve been putting into this review, that really says a lot. Each of the artists clearly put a lot of time and heart into these, and it shows.

With so many comics being manufactured, even at the creative level, 8 of the 13 comics in this book are credited as just one person--not creative teams. Considering that, aside from the length of the stories, these are high quality products, it takes a lot for one person to do.

My only real criticism is that the stories should have been broken into a series of issues/anthologies rather than one long volume where you have to get things you don’t like along with what you do like.



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