As previously recounted, my wife and I had a ball on Free Comic Book Day 2013 two weeks ago. Readers flocked to our local stores and had the opportunity to enjoy samplers from all the major comic companies and many of the indies.
How did the finished works do? Did they present an enjoyable, self-contained experience? Were they welcoming to new readers? Did they adhere to the old adage that every comic is someone’s first?
And now the conclusion, focusing on smaller publishers that demand and/or deserve equal attention:
Marble Season (Drawn & Quarterly) — Celebrated Love and Rockets co-creator Gilbert Hernandez, sallies forth into all-ages territory with slice-of-life vignettes of a ’60s childhood in which marbles were a game option before “gaming” was a common verb, kids routinely spoke in benign non sequitur, secret clubs didn’t involve violent hazing, and super-hero role-playing required neither rulebooks nor electricity. Each scene free-flows into the next without need for an overall “story arc” driving the narrative — it’s just the life of kids bouncing each off each other and drifting from one activity to the next. If Peanuts had been less punchline-driven and maybe a tad edgier (we sure never saw Linus and Lucy trying to understand a celebrity suicide) but with the same skewed innocence and underlying heart, the result would’ve looked a lot like this. One of the year’s best FCBD offerings.
FUBAR (FUBAR Press) — Zombies! The company’s entire publishing plan centers around great moments in history…with zombies! In five short-story examples we see zombies in the Iraq War, zombies making Valley Forge even harder on General Washington’s men, zombies as Nazi air weapons during the London Blitz, ’80s zombies on the Boardwalk during the Cold War, and zombies vs. young Lieutenant George S. Patton during the Mexican Revolution. If you’re willing to overlook today’s transmedia zombie glut, two stories stand out: Washington’s tale of super-patriotic near-sacrifice, and the glimpse of a young, brash Patton by former Marvel/DC writer Chuck Dixon, mostly because I have a soft spot for the movie.
Atomic Robo/Bodie Troll (Red 5 Comics) — I first discovered the whimsy and wonder of Atomic Robo through a FCBD sampler a few years ago, and he’s been awesome ever since. As imagined by creators Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, Robo is a sentient science hero created by Nikola Tesla to fight evil, engage in madcap adventures, spout clever repartee, and assure the world that it’s okay for comics to be flat-out fun sometimes. No, really. Fun is permitted in comics.
Also fun: on the other side of this flipbook is a story starring Jay Fosgitt’s Bodie Troll, an undertall bridge troll in medieval times who gets no respect and fails at threatening gruff goats. He’s like Henery Hawk from the old Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. It’s aimed at kids, but I kept laughing anyway. Favorite bit: a puppet show with news and too many commercials. Imaginative, energetic, worth checking out.Ramayan 3392 AD (Graphic India) — Rama! Ravan! Hanuman! Seeta! Lakshman! In a post-apocalyptic world where mankind has nuked itself out of the picture, the cast of the Hindu epic known as the Ramayana returns as superpowered beings engaged in still another war to end all wars. Nearly the entire issue is separate origin stories for everyone, all prologue to upcoming higher-planes clash-of-the-titans warfare. Even if Hinduism isn’t your forte, the average western-hemisphere comics fan ought to appreciate the outstanding color art and the contributions of recognizable American artists such as Michael Avon Oeming, Jim Starlin, Mouse Guard‘s David Petersen, Bart Sears, and Luke Ross. It looks like a fantastic package, with adaptive exposition from writer Ron Marz to keep outsiders in the loop.
Molly Danger/Princeless (Action Lab) — Full disclosure: as previously discussed on MCC, I was a supporter of Jamal Igle’s Molly Danger Kickstarter campaign, largely because I’d enjoyed his past work at DC and was excited at the idea of him jumping into creator-owned work. Based on this action-packed preview of the brave young heroine’s forthcoming series, I won’t be disappointed.
On the flipside, also all-ages: an excerpt from the next Princeless miniseries, about fairy-tale damsels who rescue fellow damsels from distress instead of waiting for their respective princes to get their acts together. If you’re into tales of female empowerment that require all the male characters to be evil, smarmy, or buffoonish (see also: Brave), this is aimed more at you than at me. It’s well done for that particular audience, though.
Top Shelf Kids Club (Top Shelf) — Speaking of comics not aimed at me at all: several shorts, mostly silent, including work that’s a must-grab for fans of James Kochalka or Andy Runton’s Owly, which my local library utterly adores and keeps in stock. Recommended for kids who can handle comics not based on cartoons, movies, or toy lines.
Anna & Froga/Pippi Longstocking (Drawn & Quarterly) — Side B is reprints of vintage 1950s comics about the pigtailed superstar of Swedish kiddie lit, an interesting primer for those interested in foreign material from previous decades. Side A presents the colorful, deceptively basic linework of French cartoonist Anouk Ricard. These silly vignettes remind me in a good way of Regular Show with the dumb-guys shtick toned down a tad.