Tiny Pages Made of Ashes 8/27/2013: Another sheep and an outlierA comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Jason Sacks
Just Another Sheep #1
(Mat Heagerty / JD Smith / Jon Cairns / Ed Brisson)
While at Image Expo 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting Mat Heagerty, an enthusiastic and eager young comics maker, who gave me a copy of the book he's writing, a five issue series called Just Another Sheep. Just Another Sheep is a Vietnam-era story about a young man, Banning, who can make people feel anything he has felt – like when he broke his arm or got food poisoning or got really drunk, for example.
In this first issue, Banning is on a bus in Washington, D.C. on his way to Boston when a couple of fellows take umbrage with the peace sign on his bag (because rednecks hate hippies, you know). Banning uses his power, gets thrown off the bus, and ends up following this cute flower power gal to a anti-Vietnam rally where he smokes pot and parties with a group of political activists. From there, things get a little out of hand.
There is a particular earnestness about Just Another Sheep. Heagerty really, really, really wants you to grok where he's coming from and empathize with his character. There's a bit of a pacing problem to his writing, though. Things move way too quickly for the reader to get any sense of who the characters are or what motivates them. This leads to a reliance on cliches in order to move the story forward, which leads to a disconnect between the audience and the storyteller. There are some interesting characters in Just Another Sheep. I want to know who they are. Heagerty selfishly keeps that information from me.
What saves this book, though, is JD Smith's art and Jon Cairn's coloring. There are a couple of moments in Just Another Sheep, especially the two page spread when Banning gets high for the first time, that are artistically awesome. Smith plays with the psychedelic expectations we have with a book set in the late 1960's, and adds a level of humor to the mix. Cairns takes Smith's pencils and layers a softness to them with his palette, giving Just Another Sheep kind of a unique look. It draws you in somehow, in a good way.
This is a book overflowing with intent. There's almost a primordial bubbling to its pages. This is the work of some very young creators who have just crawled out of the ocean onto land and are just now breathing oxygen. It will be interesting to see where they go once they get their legs under them.
- Daniel Elkin
You can purchase Just Another Sheep from their web site here.
The Outliers #1
(Erik T. Johnson)
This is why I love indie comics.
Erik Johnson's new comic series The Outliers is a superbly produced, sumptuously formatted new comic that tells the tale of a preadolescent boy names Tsu who can't talk – to anyone, that is, but a Bigfoot. One day when riding home on a bus through the dark woods, the bus crashes. The bus hangs from the branches of a tree, dangling dangerously. Tsu speaks to the Bigfoot, the creature shows up – and then all hell seems like it's about to start breaking loose.
This is a wonderfully fun opening chapter of what promises to be a longer saga. There's a real sense that Erik Johnson has invested real energy not just into the plot but also in the look, feel and atmospherics of the tale that he's telling. His linework is clear and extremely professional. He does an outstanding job of varying his line widths and perspectives to keep his material interesting while also staying consistent to his characters. Even more impressive, the book has a very specific rhythm to it, a clear meter that gives it a strongly realized energy. It's tough for readers to not fall quickly under the spell of The Outliers because Johnson makes it so easy for them.
Johnson's comic has a thoroughly self-created ambiance to it. It’s published in black, white and green, then black white and blue, on nice thick paper that has a handcrafted, artisanal feel. The two layers of cover each have a different type of production involved with creating them, helping make the book feel like a work that was created directly by Johnson as a statement of personal interest and ambition.
It's too early to say yet how original The Outliers will end up being, which is why I'm not giving it our highest score. There appears to be a bit of a conflict brewing between our protagonist and a second set of very creepy forces that come to his house. I'm very curious to see where that conflict goes and how all of this fascinating and very unique creativity plays out. This is one of the most intriguing indie debuts in a long time.
- Jason Sacks
For more information on The Outliers, visit Erik Johnson's website.