This month’s round-up of the best digital indie comics features Ben Gilboa’s haunting horror Blue Moon, a slice of pure fantasy from husband and wife duo Graham and Caroline Johnson in Of Stars and Swords, Steven Hudkins’ pulp adventurer The Warden in Swamp Magic and Claudio Ghirado’s experimental webcomic ‘Untitled’.
Blue Moon (Ben Gilboa)
We’ve seen the issue of mental illness covered in comics before, such as the excellent Debbie’s Inferno from Anne Emond, but Ben Gilboa’s Blue Moon takes the subject off into a much darker direction crafting a surreal and dream-like mix of horror and social commentary. Troubled youth Tim is plagued by visions of an imaginary friend who it transposes is a symptom of a mental illness. As his father attempts to help him lead a normal life, things look as if they are progressing well as he makes a friendship with fellow outcast Joan, however his jealous ‘friend’ returns (coincidentally at the time he stops taking his medication) which takes things take a darker more troubling turn. With a tone reminiscent of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time or Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, Blue Moon is an emotionally powerful book that handles difficult issues in an articulate and emotive fashion. In particular the exasperated father gives the book a real emotional depth as he attempts to help his son in the face of increasingly difficult circumstances. Rendered in a surreal, noise-filled monochrome style Blue Moon is a haunting and unsettling story that will stay with you for a long time after you have finished it.
Purchase Blue Moon from Gumroad for $8 or a price of your choice
Of Stars and Swords (Serious turtle studio)
When her family are murdered in front of her, teenager Seren sets off on a mission of revenge and encounters elves, demons, crazed lords, mages and duplicitous adventurers – you know, the usual stuff when you’re a teenager in a fantasy realm! Husband and wife duo Graham and Caroline Johnson have created a wonderful, albeit somewhat harrowing, world for Seren to inhabit, packed full of traditional fantasy tropes and an eclectic cast of characters. With inevitable comparisons to Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, there are definitely elements in Of Stars And Swords that should appeal to certain fans of both those franchises, however it reminded us more of books like MonkeyBrain’s Amelia Cole, thanks mainly to the artwork. Seren’s adventures are brilliantly brought to life by artist Caroline whose pencils have a subtly cartoonish style and are finished with some beautiful muted colouring that balances nicely against the grittiness of the world of Cyronell. Although it looks great and has an interesting roster of characters, the story does have a slightly odd rhythm to it which may be caused either by the webcomic publishing model or by inexperience from writer Graham. Issue #1 (of the 5 collected here), in particular, reads more like a prose book with pictures rather than a traditional comic, while in later issues major moments feel almost glossed over in favour of moving on to the next exposition heavy scene and don’t linger with you in the way that perhaps they should. Although this makes for a slightly confusing read, this is also one of the books strengths as it means the story is allowed to go off into unexpected directions and doesn’t simply conform to the stereotypical fantasy structure of a hero on a mission walking from one danger to the next, making Of Stars And Swords well worth investigating.
Purchase Of Stars and Swords Volume 1 from ComiXology and read the latest updates at ofstarsandswords.com
The Warden: Swamp Magic (via kickstarter)
Released as a part of The Warden Anthology Kickstarter, writer Steven Hudkins 13 page adventure ‘Swamp Magic is a slice of pulp perfection and the ideal proof of concept if you were considering investing in the full collected edition. A hybrid of Doc Savage and Indiana Jones with a dash of the supernatural thrown in for good measure that evokes the likes of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy or Hellblazer’s John Constantine, Swamp Magic is packed full of albino alligators, mysterious swamp witches and small town curses. It works as a kind of anti-origin story throwing the reader head first into The Warden’s world and only introduces us to his back story bit by bit with casual mentions of his past and why he is where he is. The whole thing is beautifully realised by artist George Sellas who manages to expertly capture the sense of grit and foreboding in the bayous, while making every sinister character ooze with menace and dread. His pencilling is incredibly accomplished with some stunning layouts, but it is the colouring and lettering that gives the real polish to the book. It makes the whole thing feel like classic pulp with it’s murky and muddy palette, but retains the vibrancy of digital colouring, and so once you’ve reached the blood-soaked finale then you won’t be able to resist pledging money to read some more of this exciting new character.
Download the whole of Swamp Magic for free from The Warden Anthology Kickstarter
untitled (Painted comic)
Claudio Ghirado’s surreal art web comic ‘Untitled’ is a bizarre mix of slice-of-life vignettes and autobiographical incidents rendered in his own unique style that mixes cubist faces and stretchy surrealist limbs with all manner of multi-media. Reading it feels like a glimpse into the mind of an artist as he pours out his being on to the page as Claudio muses on everything from everyday occurrences to the nature of his own life if he had made different choices, and it is a really fascinating world to be welcomed into. Perhaps the highlight of the whole series is ‘Hans The Storyteller’ an ageing World War 2 veteran who tells stories about his time in the war (and also cheese!) but it helps Ghirado add a depth to his comics that takes it beyond just being a look into his sketchbook. For fans of autobiographical books like Harvey Pekar or Jonathan Baylis’ So Buttons then this is well worth a look.
Read Untitled webcomic at paintedcomics.wordpress.com