Tales of Wonder #40

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
Larry Johnson has been publishing his fanzine Tales of Fantasy for twenty years. That’s twenty years of not just writing and drawing nearly every single page of artwork in the publication, but also marching out to his local copy shop, shelling out his hard-earned cash to run off a few hundred copies of his brainchild, then laboriously stuffing envelopes and mailing the zines out to friends and fans all over the world. And from all that, to barely make enough money to break even for his efforts.

It’s an amazing streak. We all get busy in our lives, always have times when we don’t have the time to do anything productive. But Larry Johnson has produced his zine consistently for twenty years. To take on such a quixotic endeavor, a person would either have to be crazy or have to really love what they do.

I don’t know if Larry is crazy, though it seems from his zines that he isn’t. But there’s no question that Larry is passionate about his characters and his zine. You can see it in every panel he draws and every word he writes. As he says in an editorial in this issue, “I’ve been at it for 20 years now and that’s either dedication or obsession or perhaps a little of both!”

Larry loves returning to his favorite settings and producing different sorts of stories in those settings than what he’s done before. The lead story in this issue, for instance, takes place in Crowe’s Curios, a weird little shop in odd little town of Brookston, a shop where people often buy objects that transform their lives. Johnson has set many stories in and around that little shop for years, and it’s a great launching point for his stories.

This issue, a lonely spinster named Eve Bloom wanders into Crowe’s Curios and buys a strange statue that has amazing mystical powers. What results is a traditional eight-page horror comics shocker, much like you might have found in any random issue of House of Mystery in the '70s. The difference, of course, is that in Larry Johnson’s hands, you can count on the story here having an unexpected twist that is not approved by the Comics Code.

Next readers visit with another recurring character, Bart Rover the shape-shifting crime-fighter, as Johnson tells a shaggy dog story about werewolves (pun intended!). The story is full of cute jokes and clever asides, and I found it very amusing.

The third piece in the issue – yeah, there are three stories in this zine, and when was the last time you saw a comic with three stories?- is a wacky mystical adventure with Detective Kolowski, the police detective who fights mystical crimes. The story is weird and surrealistic, filled with strange sights like a bunch of nasty floating eyes that attack the detective and a psychologist who turns into a centaur. Yeah, it’s odd and wacky, but that’s part of the point. I found myself chuckling out loud at a few of the more oddball scenes in this story.

The great thing about zines is the total freedom they give the creator. Since the creator really is answerable to nobody but themselves, he or she is able to follow his or her internal compass to find what he or she sees as the right way to create a story. By the time a man like Larry Johnson has done this work for 20 years, you can see that he continually makes decisions that amuse and intrigue him. It’s fun seeing Larry explore his creativity. I hope he’ll keep at it for a long time.

For ordering information on ordering this zine, visit http://groups.msn.com/larryjohnsonart.

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