Digital Ash 5/27/2013: Better Living Through Tumblr

A comic review article by: David Fairbanks, Danny Djeljosevic, Daniel Elkin


Digital Ash is Comics Bulletin's roundup of non-paper comics -- webcomics, online shorts, digital-first releases. Sequential art made of ones and zeroes. Some of it you can read for free, others you gotta to buy.


Elsewhere on Comics Bulletin:


This Was Our Pact

(Ryan Andrews)



Danny reblogged a couple of pages from this comic, which I then purchased mostly sight-unseen, and after finishing it, I now have yet another cartoonist I have to keep my eyes on. It's a good problem to have, really.

This Was Our Pact is a story about friendship, trust, stories, and fear, as well as how they shape our lives. The premise is simple: a group of five boys plan to figure out just where all the lanterns end up after they drop them into this river during an annual festival.

As a sixth boy attempts to tag along, we discover both our narrator, Ben, and his character in one fell swoop. Ben doesn't join in with the others in mocking Nathaniel, but he doesn't stop them either. It's a scene that might feel cliché by now, but Ben's hesitance toward being accepted by his friends and being kind toward others manages to feel sincere and familiar.



Less than a third of the way into the story, the boys come across a bridge that they were told never to cross, seemingly unaware of the dark, Miyazaki-esque river creature residing beneath it, and the titular pact comes into play. Just two simple parts: 

No one turns for home.

No one looks back.

Myth and reality collide for the boys who cross the bridge, and with the help of a bear that feels just trustworthy enough, they discover where all the lanterns end up each year and whether or not the stories they were told as children had any truth to them. 

Now, the story itself is a rather simple and beautiful one, offering its fair share of symbolism and featuring ideas critical of, among other things, both the tendency of adults to be suspicious and mistrusting as well as that of children to be both innocent and overly trusting. And while I like the story being told, it simply would not have the weight and beauty it does without Andrews' beautiful pages.



Although I eagerly compare his story and storytelling process to Miyazaki, his cartooning feels like it takes a lot from Jeff Lemire in terms of style. Cleaner linework and more defined character designs for certain, but it still carries the feel of Lemire on almost every page. He plays with the contrast between light and dark very well, taking advantage of any solid black or white space to use for lettering and narration. While the characters do have a certain adorableness to them, there's this ever so slight sinister feeling to the story that bubbles up as I worry about the boys trusting that this bear won't simply decide to eat them instead of the fish he claims to be after.

In short, it's a brilliant fairytale with beautiful art, intelligent panel composition, and a pretty engaging story.

This Was Our Pact is pay-what-you-want on Gumroad right now, and I felt like $6 seemed like a reasonable price for the length and a couple of pages of beautiful art. I'm already considering either just giving Andrews more of my money or at least seeing what else of his I can buy.

I hope you'll feel like it's worth buying, but you can also check it out for free here.

- David Fairbanks


Subatomic Party Girls #1

(Chad Bowers, Chris Sims, Erica Henderson; Monkeybrain)



There aren't nearly enough comics about bands. Not like Rock 'N' Roll Comics or Bluewater biographical stuff, but comics about people who are talented at music. Off the top of my head I can think of Beck, Dazzler and Scott Pilgrim. Oh yeah, Archie's in a band, too. Oh, and there's Josie and the Pussycats. Why isn't there an ongoing of that? I'd buy it. Needless to say, this is a genre pool that still has a lot of room in it.



In lieu of a proper Pussycats revival, we have something that might be better: Monkeybrain's latest release, Subatomic Party Girls, which follows the power-pop trio Beryllium Steel as they prepare to be the first band on the moon, except shit goes awry and they end up in stranger (read: "alien") territory.

I'm into music. I'm into female protagonists. I'm into having fun. I've dug the previous comics of Chris Sims and Chad Bowers. With all that in mind, I'm pretty much programmed to like Subatomic Party Girls, but all these elements could still make for a wack comic if the creative element isn't in place. But in 16 pages Bowers and Sims get to the fireworks factory before the midway point and waste no time giving us a taste of where the series is going. Namely, scenes where people use their instruments as weapons and meet weird alien creatures. Yeah, I'm down.



In artist Erica Henderson the comic finds a great paring of artist and material. Her animated style is perfectly suited to the writers' all-ages approach to the story, but I'm not using that as some kind of code to mean something like "this is cartoony and loose but it's good for kids who don't know any better." Naw, dude -- Henderson pulls off some particularly eye-catching panel layouts when the situation calls for it, with lots of striking colors and character designs that are varied as they are memorable. For example, there's a cat lady but it's not the kind you're thinking of.

This thing pretty much had me at the title, but Subatomic Party Girls is one of the stronger Monkeybrain debuts since last year's launch, and certainly one of the most fun.

- Danny Djeljosevic


You can buy Subatomic Party Girls #1 at ComiXology, and find out more at Monkeybrain Comics.



(Dalton Rose, Study Group)



Dalton James Rose has a short comic called Joywell over on Study Group. It's ostensibly a horror story about a lost cat and a war between magical beings, and Rose tells it quietly in bright colors and large panels. It explores ideas about growing up using a quest motif. Joywell is quickly done from start to finish, yet its echos resonate for some time afterward.



The story begins with a young girl whose cat, Joywell, has gone missing. Joywell, as his name implies, is the source of her happiness. To recover her cat, the young girl must first travel to the center of a large mound in the middle of a park. She wanders through a tunnel which opens into a golden room made of sticks (or french fries. It's kind of hard to tell) festooned with detritus of culture -- televisions, bicycles, human skulls, a globe, the Sphinx -- wherein she finds a boy eating the hearts of cats to stay alive, one of which was Joywell's. This boy's hunger for cat hearts is a result of a curse by a witch, without them he will die. As it turns out, this witch is a young woman who sits in her brightly colored bedroom surrounded by plushies with red glowing eyes and a television tuned to static. 

There is conflict between the witch and the boy which, in just a few pages, is resolved. Joywell gets a new heart and is returned to his home at the foot of the young woman's bed. It is a simple and clean story both in its telling and Rose's art. His lines are crisp, his colors are vibrant, and his pacing, while hurried, never rushes the reader.



Yet nothing is easy in this comic. Rose's protagonist is at a turning point in her life. She must make a journey to recover not only the trappings of joy, but she must further her quest to find its heart. Through this process she confronts the fears inherent in transformation -- her rite of passage -- that we all must go through as we move from our childhood innocence into our more mature, experienced selves. She is presented with markers -- the bird boy and the witch -- both of whom embrace aspects of culture but have perverted them. The hero must rely, rather, on the help of someone entirely outside her experience, a ghoulish servant, to finally help her regain her joy. This is a coming of age tale recast as a gentle horror story, and there are indeed horrific moments, but that is not the intent here. 



You get the sense Rose identifies strongly with his protagonist and that, perhaps, his own journey into adulthood was not particularly smooth. Then again, whose is, which is why Joywell speaks to the universal instead of the personal.

This is a vibrant and quiet story that deserves your notice. 

- Daniel Elkin


You can find Joywell on Study Group, or on Rose's own blog.

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