SO CUTE AND SO GOOD
One of the hidden gems I found in San Diego this year was THE WORLD OF QUEST, published by Komikwerks. This original graphic novel from Jason Kruse is a kid-friendly tale of a little boy and his brutish bodyguard, Quest. Keith Giffen puts it best on the back cover when he describes the book as being the mash-up of CONAN and CALVIN & HOBBES. I'd add in a touch of the classic Warner Bros. animated shorts, too. The book is a colorful, funny, and cute breath of fresh air.
The boy in question is the eleven-year-old Prince Nestor. When some dangerous beings invade his realm and take his father, Nestor runs to the banished barbarian named Quest to safeguard him and help him find a magical dagger that will save the day. Don't worry if all this sounds silly or far-fetched. This is a fantasy book, and it has all the trappings -- from weird creatures to magic MacGuffins. I may not do the description justice, but the beats that Kruse hangs on this outline are entertaining enough to hold my interest.
In many ways, this is a cute buddy tale. Nestor is the juvenile, hyperactive, and talkative little runt, while Quest is the silent powerful bodyguard. The two don't get along all that well, but that's where so much of the humor comes. Quest is capable. Nestor is young and foolish. Quest may seem like a bit of a jerk at times, but his reasons for that are usually just unorthodox strategy or choices of personal style. He's a loner who's been banished from the kingdom once, and drawn back in almost in spite of himself. Nestor is a little needy, but horribly cute. You can't help but root for him. This book would make for a great animated movie, just because there'd be stuff for the adults to enjoy as much as the children.
Kruse has a very visual storytelling style. He uses some tricks that appear to make the comic storytelling feel more like storyboard bits from an animated series. Repeated panels, dry recitations of lines, and a few bits of comic violence serve the story well. The coloring from Ray Mcintyre fits the book perfectly, though I do have my quibbles. It's very bright, not needlessly dark as so many fantasy stories are wont to be. There's nice attention paid to simplistic shadows and some reserved gradients in the backgrounds. But there are scenes where everything is so bright and shiny and trying to jump off the page at you that it all blends in together. There needs to be a bit more differentiation between foreground and background with the colors. Part of the reason for that is that Kruse's inkwork is still too uniform and thick. He doesn't vary his line weights as much as he should. Extreme foregrounds do get thicker lines than the backgrounds, but the often manic action of the book can get jarring. It's not overwhelming by any means, but it is that last 10% of polish that the book would need to be perfect. Along the same lines, I think Patrick Coyle's lettering is too large, with balloons that are too fat and too much white space inside. That might have been a purposeful decision, though. This is the kind of book that might get reprinted someday at a digest size for a lower price point for the kiddies. Keeping the lettering larger will make it easier to read then.
Finally, some of the character designs are so discombobulating that solid establishing shots are a necessity. One or two creatures are so mixed up that they can be hard to get a quick grasp of.
Overall, though, don't let those qualms distract you from a very entertaining book. Kruse sets a fast pace, filling the book with characters who interact very well with each other to maximum comedic results. It's an utterly charming book that grabs you from the start and doesn't let go. Even the chapters marked as "Interludes" are a lot of fun.
The book is available this week from Komikwerks for just $15. Early copies were printed for the San Diego Comic-Con, but tomorrow is the official release date for the direct market. It's 120+ pages of story in glorious full color. If you want a preview, you can check out its previous incarnation as a webcomic over here. Just be warned: It's been relettered and touched up since the sample pages you see here, which aren't even in color. The preview chapter does a good job in showing off the character designs and the sense of humor and storytelling that Kruse uses.
For the final page designs, check out this preview, which includes the original press release announcing the book.
MODELS IN ACTION
MODEL OPERANDI is an original one-shot/graphic novel due out from After Hours Press this week. It's the story of, uhm, some busty super model types taking on some other super model times of various bust sizes in some strange European-seeming Pink Panther type of plot, with spies and chase scenes and --
Well, it's about the least mature comic I've read in a long time. The entire thing is a groping attempt for new double entendres involving hot lipstick lesbian action, one pun worse than the last.
So why did I like it so much?
MODEL OPERANDI is a book that advertises itself for what it is, makes no apologies for that, and just goes all out to entertain the type of audience that would find this stuff hilarious -- 13 year old boys and the audience of Opie and Anthony or Howard Stern. Considering the creators recently showed up on the Ron and Fez Show, I'm guessing that they're hitting their mark pretty well.
The creators behind the book are Dennis Budd and Joe Caramagna. Budd gets credit for plot, pencils, and colors, while Caramagna chips in with the final script, inks, and lettering. The lettering is great -- Caramagna letters at Marvel for his day job -- and the coloring is solid, though a couple of the night scenes run a little dark for me. I'm not a fan of using Photoshop tricks to simulate headlight effects, either. I wish more creators would go with a cartoonier effect than that, more in keeping with the style of the art. But that's a minor issue in the grand scheme of things.
The art is done up in an animated style, sort of a cross between Bruce Timm and your better-than-average web-based Flash animation. Budd's panel choices make this better than Flash, though. He varies the camera angles and the distances of the "camera" from the action in a very nice way. Some of the character designs are more extreme, on purpose. But like I said already, if you don't want to see impossibly proportioned women running and fighting, you've probably already skipped past this review.
In the end, your mileage on this book will vary greatly depending on what you're looking for. This isn't -- by any stretch of the imagination -- high art. It's empty calories, but easy on the eyes. Decide what you want before you pick it up.
MODEL OPERANDI #1 is due out this week. It'll run you $5.99 for 88 full color pages.
ANOTHER WEBCOMIC-TO-PRINT STORY
There's no proper segue from MODEL OPERANDI to MAKESHIFT MIRACLE. The differences are night and day, in just about every single category. From tone and style straight down to origin and presentation, we're talking about two completely different books. MAKESHIFT MIRACLE is a much more serious and weighty tome. MODEL might win a Spike TV Award for something, but MIRACLE would be Oscar-nominated. But for reasons entirely different from the previous book, I have to be careful who I recommend this book to, since it won't be for everyone who typically reads this column.
MAKESHIFT MIRACLE originally appeared as a web comic a few years ago. Written and drawn by Jim Zubkavich, it's the story of a teenaged boy whose life is thrown into disarray one day on a walk home when a nearby explosion leads him to an amnesiac girl. She leads him, then, into a surreal and mystical adventure that promises to change his life. It's more fantasy than anything else, I suppose, but not the kind that involves trolls and elves and whatnot. It's very much In Your Head, although there are moments of adventurous drama and characters in harm's way. Zubkavich does an excellent job in balancing out the two, keeping the book fantastic and adventurous, while still delivering a comic that is dreamlike and surreal.
Put more succinctly, Scott McCloud sums it up on the cover: "A melancholy, enchantingly drawn meditation on imagination and yearning."
Zubkavich's plot rivals movie scribe Charlie Kaufman's typical efforts, for a level of bizarreness and seeming incoherency. (If you liked ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, you might want to give this a try.) When you're done reading the book, though, you'll likely want to go back through it again to see how it all fits together and how the (metaphorical) wizard controlled everything from behind the curtain all along. It's a surprisingly impactful story, that's made understandable through a relatively small cast (six characters or so across 200 pages), and dialogue that doesn't ever assume you're one step ahead of the story. I appreciated that.
Any story whose universe is so open that it allows for anything to be explained away with a snap of the fingers is one that I enter into with a cynical eye. But Zubkavich stumbles into something heartwarming and emotional with this story. While it comes in fits and starts, it's all there at the end if you're willing to accept it.
The art is rough, but not terribly distracting. Backgrounds are often nonexistent. Only the background bits that need to be seen are ever drawn, and in little detail. The vast majority of the artwork is focused on the faces of the characters. In a book that relies on the adventures of the mind as much as this one, though, it's not a bad thing. That's called "playing to your strengths," if not "avoiding your weaknesses" outright.
When it comes to strengths, Zubkavich works the coloring throughout the book to his advantage, often adding textures and effects to the artwork at the coloring stage. It gives the book an energetic and dynamic look that flat colors wouldn't be able to create. You can definitely tell that this book is being colored by someone at Udon, though. Each page is monochromatic, with shades of blue, grays, greens, and browns taking their turns.
It's a bit distracting, though, that the color changes as often as it does. The colors are not keyed in to specific characters or settings. They change willy nilly. When I first started reading the book, I was looking for the secondary meaning of the colors. It took me ten or twenty pages to realize that there isn't one. Such is the problem with collecting a web comic into a book. When viewed from day to day, that constant color shift probably wasn't annoying, since you'd often not remember what color you saw the day before.
On the flip side of the same coin, though, the pacing is much better as a complete graphic novel than as a webcomic. Each page should make for one story beat when reading a web comic. You want to both entertain the reader and give them a reason to come back the next day. Some of these pages are so simplistic that I don't know if I would care to come back the next day to see what happens next. As a graphic novel, though, those beats just contain more dramatic emphasis and keep your fingers turning the pages.
There's something heart warming and endearing about this book. Zubkavich's coming-of-age story might have a nasty twist or two along the way, but it's stocked with characters you come to know and care about, and whose uncertain futures make the book feel more dramatic and important than the simple superhero-like hook the book starts off with. It's not the slickest looking package in the comics world, but it makes up for that with its heart. It's a surprising page-turner.
Udon is publishing MAKESHIFT MIRACLE in November. (I mentioned it in the Pipeline Previews column a few weeks back.) It's a full color 200 page book at roughly 8 by 5 inches in size. Cover price is $12.99, and you can find more info/see preview art/pre-order your copy at the book's site. Pay particular attention to the Tutorials page, where you can cringe along with me at the thought of doing word balloons in Photoshop.
NEWS, NOTES, AND PODCASTING BITS AND PIECES
- Whatever happened to WILDSIDERZ? The second issue came out, right? And then J. Scott Campbell disappeared again, this time into a Marvel exclusive contract.
- T.M. Maple wrote 3000 letters of comment to comic books in his lifetime. Suddenly, I feel so small.
- Thanks to everyone over at MySpace who added me as a friend this week. Looks like I was able to pick up as many people in week two as I did in week one of this little experiment. It's always gratifying to get your comments and messages along the way, and I thank you all for that. The page is still there -- please continue to visit. I'll update the blog there with new Pipeline entries as we go along.
If you happened to be bored this week, I'd encourage you to write a short review of The Pipeline Podcast over at the iTunes Store. Those reviews help convince more potential listeners to give comics' first podcast a shot.
I have some new equipment coming into Pipeline World Headquarters this week which should help boost the audio quality of the show, if I do it right. Keep an ear open for that in the next couple of weeks.
I'm also hoping to throw in a bonus podcast soon. Check back here and on ThePipelinePodcast.com for updates.
I'll be back tonight with a new podcast, so stay tuned for that. Next week's column will be the start of this month's look into PREVIEWS, with reviews of whatever comics inspire me this week.
My blog, Various and Sundry is still updating daily.
More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.