To paraphrase the line that opens the comic itself, small towns can often hide big secrets. While, in many real life small communities, this is limited to infrequent scandal over doping at the local pumpkin growing contest or the occasional local vicar syphoning off bake sale funds to fund the construction of a monument to his dark lord Cthulhu. In White Ash by Charlie Stickney however, the titular small town is hiding something far bigger.
Publisher: White Ash Comic
Writer: Charlie Stickney
Artist: Conor Hughes, Fin Cramb (Colours)
Price: Not listed – Available during Kickstarter Campaign for $12 for issues 1-2
It’s clear within the opening moments of White Ash’s first issue that there are sinister and mysterious forces at work around the small town. It’s something that our hero Aleck begins the story painfully unaware of as he prepares to leave the small mining community he’s lived in for all of the 19 years, 36 days and a few hours of his life to date. As he gets ready to depart for college (with no intention of returning) Aleck bids both friends and his father goodbye, and events begin to unfold that will not only delay his departure, but also replace departures with reunions. A chance meeting also serves to spark romantic tensions between himself and Lillian Alden, daughter of the man who owns the town’s mine, along with almost everything else in town, and whom Alecks own family is none too keen on. Before long Aleck finds he’s learning more secrets about the town, his family, and even himself than he ever gave White Ash the credit for being capable of containing.
Thematically White Ash draws from a deep and diverse pool of inspirations from mystery-based series like Twin Peaks to high fantasy, horror, and even some romance. It’s a real melting pot that, by and large, blends really well together – which is a significant achievement in itself. Even the injection of a fantasy element into the story (which, in its early pages, could read as a small-town horror / mystery) could have been quite jarring and derailed the story, but it is skilfully handled and upon re-reading is noticeable as having been visually weaved into the design throughout. With some specifics revealed in the closing pages of the first issue, the second leans harder into both the elements of fantasy lore and the blossoming (though forbidden) simmering romance of the lead characters. This leads to a consistently engaging story, with escalating stakes and action as the story progresses, and Aleck and Lillian work together with their own unique talents to uncover the meaning behind the events taking place in the town.
White Ash’s inhabitants are not only engagingly written but beautifully captured by Hughes’ art – which is complemented by some excellent colour work from Cramb. Even when characters are shown without dialogue their alignment, background and key traits can readily be seen from these strong visuals alone. Additionally the town of White Ash itself, far from being just a name, has clearly been the subject of much careful visual and conceptual design to the point you’d be forgiven for feeling it had a real world counterpart.
An engaging blend of its combining inspirations to date benefitting from some strong design work. If you’re a fan of any one this book’s multiple genres it’s worth looking out for.