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Another Day in the Stacks– Local Edition

by  in Comic News Comment
Another Day in the Stacks– Local Edition

Well, internet-local, anyway.

I’m not really a reviewer, certainly not in the sense that our other Greg or Kelly are. Nevertheless, I still get a fair number of emails and review PDFs from small-press indie folks asking me to talk about this or that project in this space. The mission statement on the blog in general is that if you send us something, we’ll review it. But my own rule is that if it’s self-published or small-press, I won’t talk about it on the blog unless I genuinely liked it. Those folks put too much sweat and heartache into getting their books in print for some smug columnist at CBR to be taking shots at them, especially when that might be the only press an indie self-published project gets at all. It feels too much like punching down. So if the project sucks or I didn’t like it, my compromise is that I will maintain a discreet silence.

But as it happens I got a couple here a few weeks back that I did in fact enjoy a great deal. It’s just that with August having been so generally crappy and then our little hospital interlude last week, I didn’t get to them until now. But they’re both pretty cool projects and worth bringing to your attention.

The first one is Pariah, Missouri, which is a series of original graphic novels from writer Andres Salazar and artist Jose Pescador.

It’s a ‘weird western,’ a genre that generally has me at hello anyway, so I was very much predisposed to enjoy this. Here’s the blurb: “The early American frontier was a harsh reality for most of those who lived it, but most of those early pioneers still never saw the kinds of strange and unexplained phenomena that the folks of Pariah, Missouri will face. Hiram Buchanan is an undercover Pinkerton agent sent to the frontier town of Pariah with the task of flushing out the criminal enterprise that’s made the town its home. For a single agent like Hiram, the mission is difficult enough, but the local criminal community may not be the worst element hiding in the shadows. Evil from ‘the other side’ has come to town in the form of entertainment and everyone in the town is vulnerable to its spell. Amid the battle between the law and the lawless, an even more terrifying battle rages between life on Earth and the darkness beyond.”

The tag line I keep seeing for the book is “Buffy meets Deadwood,” but I think that doesn’t do it justice. For one thing, it’s a lot more complex than that, and though Buchanan is the nominal hero, the story is actually told from multiple points of view. We open with the introduction of Hiram, the dandy with a hidden agenda, but there’s also Nellie, the tough-talking saloon lady who just lost her hotel; Jean, an African-American man hiding from the law; and Toro, a half-breed bounty hunter with vaguely mystic abilities. The narrative is all over the place, which can be hard to follow at first, but it’s compelling enough that I stayed with it anyway, and gradually the story came into focus. It’s mostly about two sinister entertainers arriving in town who are Not What They Seem, and our heroes figuring out what they are and how to end them.

Salazar is stingy with the reveals at first, building the mystery. It creates an atmosphere that’s very creepy and cool, although sometimes it feels a little too slow; I thought the various character introductions could have been streamlined a bit and we could have got to the main story a little sooner. But that’s me, and your mileage may vary.

The structure of the thing, and the multiple viewpoints, don’t suggest Buffy-meets-Deadwood as much as they do “Stoker’s Dracula meets Deadwood,” right down to the part where Hy Buchanan has to assemble a motley crew of Fearless Supernatural Hunters.

I haven’t talked about the art, but that’s really what sold me and kept me hanging in there until Mr. Salazar’s slow burn paid off. It’s an interesting division of labor– Pescador does character designs and page pencils, and then Salazar inks and hand-paints the colors. It’s really striking and raises the level of the entire enterprise a couple of notches.

Your comics retailer can order Book One through Previews here, or you can just order it yourself online. Book Two is in the works, happening through a Kickstarter that’s active for the next week or so. I’m in for that one as well, I think. Especially now that the cast is firmly in place and the setup’s all done. Recommended with the caveat that even though it’s a slow starter, patience pays off.

*

The other book I received that left a favorable impression is The Gathering: Paranormal Romance from Grayhaven Comics.

This is apparently the 28th issue of The Gathering, an ongoing anthology title showcasing indie creators from all over, with the stated intention of bringing a diverse group of folks together and giving them a chance to publish. This is something that I really like to see and it gives the book a great let’s-put-on-a-show vibe while at the same time showing a bit more polish than a photocopy ‘zine or some similar effort.

So #28, “Paranormal Romance,” features a bunch of stories built on that theme and like all anthologies, it’s a mixed bag. Honestly, the cover really put me off– I am not a zombie story fan, never will be, not my thing at all– but the book won me over with its off-kilter approach to the subject matter and the sheer enthusiasm everyone’s bringing to it. The stories are short, four or five pages. The book opens with a strong one-two punch, the darkly funny “My Grandfather, Victor the Vampire” from Brian Tanner and Scott Sackett, followed by the melancholy “Time After Time” by Glenn Matchett and Chris Dixon.

Both of these were interesting concepts and completely subverted my expectations, and I heartily approve of comics creators who can get it done in just a few pages.

This is followed by Erica Heflin’s “Winged Maidens: Daughters of the Earth,” which I did not care for as much– it seemed unfinished, more of a vignette than a story. Likewise, “State of Mind” from Giulie Speziani and Simona Binni seemed more like a first chapter than a story; though it was a very intriguing first chapter, the abrupt end is unsatisfying.

“It’s All in the Moon” from Attila Kiss and Chris Dixon is quite a bit stronger, and a complete story. Lot of world-building in this one– almost too much– but I enjoyed it quite a bit, it’s an original spin on the old werewolf myth. “The Golem” from Nathan Kenkel and Greg McCrary is another strong entry. McCrary’s art style reminded me of some of the best undergrounds from the seventies, it’s got that great scratchy-bigfoot look to it.

“Lost Souls” by Lisa Harrison and Matt Watson is another little two-page vignette, but this one is a complete story, a lovely little mood piece. “Paranormal Love” by Jason Riggs and ‘Adrian9’ is competent but doesn’t really have the punch of the other stories, and “Aisle 14” from Timothy Nakauama and Chris Dixon– again– has a clever premise but doesn’t really pay off. Dixon’s got several stories in this issue and it makes me wonder if they were done months or even years apart, because the quality’s up and down. Sometimes it’s really striking and other times it looks like he’s struggling a little with composition and anatomy. But the book ends on a high note with “Someone for Everyone” a hilarious story about a relationship counselor with deeply bizarre clientele. This one’s from Ray Goldfield with terrific art by Greg Kimmett.

All the way to the end and hardly a zombie to be found, which was a pleasant surprise. Overall, at $3.50 I think it’s a good bang for the buck and there are more hits than misses. I daresay you’d probably have to mail-order it direct from GrayHaven, but you might suggest it to your retailer, if for no other reason than to open up the possibility of more interesting indie stuff getting into your store.

*

Almost forgot. I was going to explain what makes it “local.” Attila Kiss, who sent me The Gathering, and Andres Salazar, who gave us Pariah, are both guys who hang out right here on the CBR forums. I always like it when some of our own here on the site get to do their own published thing, especially when it turns out as well as these two projects did. Well done, fellas, and I look forward to seeing your future endeavors.

See you next week.

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