Tiny Pages Made of Ashes 10/4/2013: Three Great Self-Published Comics

A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Bill Janzen, Geoffrey Lapid

Tiny Pages Made of Ashes

Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's small press review column

Of Stone #1

(D.A. Bishop)

This comic could almost be titled Tribal Hulk - ignoring than the legal hammering from Marvel that would inevitably follow. I don't say that in a negative way. It's not that Of Stone comes across as an intentional ripoff but if you were as big a fan of the "Planet Hulk" story line as many people were, then you will likely enjoy this as well. 

Of Stone

Gan is the chief of a tribe of ogres that live in the mountains. Through this issue we follow Gan as he goes on a hunt with his thoughts serving as our narrative on the journey. Gan is very similar to the Hulk in his basic look - huge, bulky and muscular with a Neanderthal-like face - and also in his physical power and dominance. From his inner monologue and his thoughts about humans, you could easily imagine him using the Hulk's classic term "puny humans". 

As I started into the issue I thought it was going to be a simplistic story about the violent, uber-powerful main character but it turned out to be much more than that. The narrative slowly drew me in into a nuance that I hadn't been expecting. I felt myself caring about this tribal chief and how he felt driven to prove himself again and again to his tribe through the hunt. By the end what I first feared would be a shallow action-oriented tale ended up with a complexity and moral depth I hadn't expected. The relationship between hunter, hunt and prey was more than I could have foreseen. I wish I could tell you more but I wouldn't want to spoil it. 

Of Stone

Where the issue falls short, however, is the artwork. While the writing turned out to be more than I'd expected from an independent comic, the art is a little rough. The important aspects are there in the art. There's consistency of the figures and faces, good use of angles and shifting scenes, and the imagery of the action is visceral, but you can tell the art isn't professional. You can see it in the blank spaces where texture should be, in the body shapes that are just a little off and in some areas where the scratched in lines just look a bit messy. 

Of Stone #1

The art could be greatly improved by even something as simple as having a high-quality colouring added to it. It would help cover over the roughness and help with depth and texturing in images that in their current form seem a little lifeless. 

Despite its weaknesses, I recommend this comic. It's a fun read and it's a complete story in itself so you can keep just one issue and be satisfied with it. Unfortunately the $3.99 price puts this comic at the same cost as the best of the big studios' issues which makes it a little harder as a quick buy. But if you have the money you can pick it up and support an indie comic creator while you do it. 

Of Stone #1

As you get through the first few pages Of Stone will draw you in as you start to feel what the importance of hunt is to Gan and you realize that "Of Stone" refers to more than just the mountains and ogres. 

- Bill Janzen

Buy Of Stone on D.A. Bishop's Store Envy page.


Above the Clouds Chapter 1

(Melissa Pagluica)

4 stars

It's always nice to unexpectedly stumble across something beautiful. I mean, there you are. You slug through your grind getting slathered in the detritus of missed opportunities, dreams deferred, and failed expectations, weighted down, weighted down, and then, out of nowhere, hovering in your peripheral vision, there's something that re-establishes your faith that the universe can actually be a basically positive entity because something of beauty can push through the cracks and bloom.

Something like this happened to me a couple of weekends ago at this thing called Super Sac-Con (I know, right) in Sacramento, CA. I had made the journey there to see Howard Chaykin and Bill Sienkiewicz, then I wandered into the "Small Press Zone" and accidentally found Melissa Pagluica selling her gorgeous comic Above the Clouds.

Which is truly a thing of beauty.

And, from what I can gather, is her first comic book.

Damn.

Above the Clouds

On her website, Pagluica says that Above the Clouds is "a project aimed at learning how to make a comic." From what I've seen, if this is what she considers the learning stage, I can't wait to read the books she creates after mastering the form.

Above the Clouds tells the story of a young maiden in medieval times who seems to be having trouble attracting the attention of the man she loves. She is given a book to distract her and  then the comic goes all story within a story, book within a book. It is in this inner tale about the People of the Sky and the Death of the Elder Tree that Pagluica's art really transforms. The wash of pale colors that fill her panels billow and eddy and envelop her outlines adding a fluidity to her characters as they whirl through the action.

Seriously.

Above the Clouds

The two stories within Above the Clouds are intertwined, each having to do with a quest of self-actualization and empowerment. The frame story though, the one of unrequited love, is a silent comic. Pagluica unfolds the narrative without words. This is a bold step for a neophyte cartoonist, but Pagluica says she is studying how to tell a story visually and here she shows just how it can be done. The manner she renders the facial expressions and body language of her characters express more in a moment than anything she could write. With this, Pagluica shows that her nascent comic book skills are those of a precocious child – the one that makes the adults in the room stop, stare, and reassess their own sense of mastery.

Like I said, this is a beautiful book.

Above the Clouds

Melissa Pagluica is an artist whose name you should add to whatever "Artists To Watch" list you may subscribe to (if you do that sort of thing). If Above the Clouds is Pagluica learning to crawl, imagine where she will be when she starts jumping.

- Daniel Elkin 

You can buy Above the Clouds Volume 1 from Pagluica's Etsy site.


The Weight of Prayers

(Michael Coumeau)

4 stars

Michael Comeau's The Weight of Prayers is another of his bootleg superhero comics, this time focusing on Daimon Hellstrom, The Son of Satan, as he wanders through New York City, crossing paths with a street gang and "flirting" with Raven from the Teen Titans. He travels with an intense guilt about being the son of Satan, and approaches every situation as a learning experience, using it as an opportunity for personal reflection.

The Weight of Prayers
 
Comeau's unique art style carries us through The Son of Satan's existential wanderings. Each page is printed in a single color, and Comeau combines collage techniques with his own fluid, expressionistic linework. The Son of Satan has an especially interesting look, as Comeau has decided to draw him with the word "SATAN" scrawled across his face, replacing his eyes. It's a choice that ultimately works to call attention to his obvious and permanent connection with his father as well as to showcase and further escalate his status as a social pariah. It's literally written all over his face. His figure is rounded, constantly shifting with the mood, his postures often doing the work of conveying the anguish and confusion that having a real set of eyes usually does. He doesn't fit in with this world, and every attempt he makes to understand it only ends in more pain and reflection.
 
Comeau's Son of Satan, while being more focused on existential ponderings and navel-gazing, is not exempt from encountering and dealing with that old staple of action comics, the common street thug. His Marvel universe counterpart, of course, deals with this sort of conflict in a much different and more direct, more superheroic way. This take on The Son of Satan employs a more unorthodox approach of non-violence, and he promptly gets the shit beat out of him. It's played for laughs, but the twisting contortions of The Son of Satan's pained expressions manage to mix in a little tragedy as we see a man who simply does not understand why there is so much hate and violence in the world, despite being a supposed avatar of pain and suffering.

The Weight of Prayers
His unsuccessful flirting with Raven works for similar reasons. It's funny, but underneath the comedy exists the sense that The Son of Satan just wants to connect with someone in someway. In this instance it's Raven who takes on the superheroic role, saving The Son of Satan from his own loneliness and tainted self-perception. Her approach is much more active than The Son of Satan's passive non violence, and incidentally she doesn't get the shit beat out of her either. Raven teaches him to "look to the infinity within" and to create an astral projection as a way to reset his consciousness. By the comic's end The Son of Satan is an enlightened man, and maybe he's changed his worldview. We don't know for sure. All we know is that he has a bloody nose and a new experience, and that may be fitting, I think, for a bootleg superhero comic like this. I like to think the way he experiences and interacts with the world has changed, but it would be just like this comic to take another second to throw in a tragic undercurrent beneath the highs of enlightenment.

- Geoffrey Lapid

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