With some extra time on his hands thanks to the school holidays, our indie comics expert Olly MacNamee takes a few hours out from sunning himself to cast an eye over three more great indie titles in this month’s Olly’s World of Indie. They include: Dave Cook’s new fantasy story Vessels; anarchic music inspired series Iron Bard Ballisto; and both volumes of David Lumsden’s Boat, based on his short film.
Vessels No.1 (Card Shark Comics)
Writer: Dave Cook Artist: Rafael Desquitado Price: £4
The cover certainly suggests Vessels #1 to be firmly rooted in the magical world of sword, sorcery and magic skullduggery, But the unfolding story is much more than that and makes use of other tropes and conventions from other genres to offer the first part in what promises to be a story of epic proportions; like all good fantasy. This is more like The Lord of The Rings meets Little Nemo in Slumberland by way of The Evil Dead.
While the all seeing eye, and big bad of the piece, is very suggestive of Sauron, how this omnipotent demigod is linked to the main protagonist, Wake, is yet to be revealed, of course. This is issue one after all, and as such in setting out to build a living breathing world, it’s very successful. We are introduced to all the main players and a few mysterious characters too, no more so than at the end of the first issue, offering up a quintet of horrors that I will leave you to discover for yourself.
Wake herself seem to be out of sorts with this world of barren lands and scorched earth, a visitor almost, but one that draws the sight of the all seeing eye in the sky, the Eye-God. She is cast into the dungeons of the sieged city of Stratum where her story really begins as she is thrown into the arms of the other main would-be heroes, albeit her cellmate doesn’t seem very heroic on first sight. But then, this is no doubt a story in the tradition of the Hero’s Quest and as such, these tales tend to be as much a rites-of-passage as they are stories of daring and adventure, trials and tribulations. And Wake, in referencing the 12 stages of the Hero’s Quest, has long past the first threshold on her way to enlightenment.
The art, provided by Rafael Desquitado Jr, with colours by Dennis Lehmann, is consistent, with the world of Vessels clearly having been carefully thought out while Dave Cook developed the story and the script. The opening pages are appropriately grim and dark in colour while Desquitado’s art lays out a promise of horrors yet to come. The dominance of hot reds and warm earthy tones suggest a stifling world, always just one disaster away form total armageddon as the Eye-God takes up residency above the city of Stratum. Likewise, when Wake, ahem, awakens ‘elsewhere’ shall we say, the blue tones used immediately lets the reader know that Wake ain’t in Kansas anymore.
A promising first issue of world-building, character introduction and the hint of not one, but multiple dangers on the horizon, Vessels is available to buy from Comichaus now.
Iron Bard Ballisto No. 1 (Milk Shadow Books)
Writer/artist: Ben Hutchings Price: £2.49 (digital)/£7 (print)
There are many ways in which we can attack our corporate overloads, from simply refusing to buy their brand, demonstrating online or in the streets, but in this humorous comic from Ben Hutchings the self-proclaimed Iron Bard, Ballisto, takes the more direct route of sieging the building, single-handedly. His weapon of choice: music!
Both the action and the humour is fast paced, as Ballisto forces his way through the forces of evil – or rather the security guards of ZND Corporation – in his own Hero’s Quest and into the dragon’s cave itself. Even the corporation output – bras for the fuller figured woman – itself is rather ridiculous, but that’s the point. On imagines that in Ballisto’s mind, he is a barbarian in a barbarous world of wizards, warlocks and wonders, yet in reality he’s something more of a Heavy Metal Hippy.
It’s a fun ride, and a fun concept too: a delusional world-saving warrior who’s music certainly seems to have the powers to tame the stage beast. The artwork reminds me of a less detailed, cleaner Robert Crumb with a dash of Chris ‘Coop’ Cooper thrown in too, which of course is fitting for a humour comic of this nature, as well as Ballisto himself having been born out of Hutchings’ designs for a gig poster he did once. Something Coop himself was no stranger to, if you are familiar with his work on many a punk poster of yesteryear’s East Coast punk scene.
Fast, witty and with an underground comix vibe to it that appealed to the rock and roll rebel in me, and a nice change from more serious subject matter.
Boat Volume 1 and Volume 2 (David Lumsden)
Writer: David Lumsden Artist: Mark Weallans (Vol.1) and Marc Olivent (Vol.2) Price: Vol.1: £6.99, Vol.2: £7.99
Set in a post-apocalyptic Scotland where global warming has reached it’s inevitable crushing conclusion one father and his son, Charlie, are also on a quest, but it’s hardly a heroic one, rather a quest for survival at all costs. In many ways they are looking for their own castle, their own happy ending, but it’s grim up North at the best of times and the rising waters that have swept away civilisation have only made it much worse.
In hunting for a place to shelter, a place to survive, there will always be threats to face, and possible enemies to dispense with. But, what we witness to be the present is in fact a flashback, one last memory of a child and his father that ends in tears. Charlie has grown up knowing little else other than isolation and loneliness in a savage Scotland even Macbeth would have sleepless nights over. But Charlie’s story of survival is not one we are offered in this first volume, which is a rather quick read when compared with the second volume in this series. But then, the main action of Volume 1 does centre around a boat bound father and son. It was always going to be a stretch, one imagines, to flesh out a story when your focus is on two people in a boat. If you’ve ever read The Life of Pi, you’ll know what a slog the middle section of that novel can be when all we have is Pi,a tiger and magic realism to keep the reader buoyed.
By Volume 2, not only does the story develop with more pace and gusto, the artwork takes a dramatic leap in competency between the two volumes too. While Mark Weallans is clearly an artist still developing, Marc Olivent’s art on the second volume is much more developed, more ready for print, and offers the reader a more satisfactory read as a result. Weallans’ art – a mix of both The Walking Dead’s Charlie Adlard (appropriately, given the subject matter) and Hellboy’s Duncan Fergredo – adds a legitimacy to this story, which was based on a short film by the writer, David Lumsden, and so a more realistic art style is just the ticket. Both volumes make effective use of the shadows; the greys and the blacks utilised by both artists on both volumes are suitably dull and dank for this bleak, bad world that lacks electrically charged lights. The backdrop is a desolate vista of crumbling buildings and make shift fortresses dominating the flooded landscape of Scotland. A flooded landscape that offers up sharks in the water and out of the water too. The new world order is one of tribalism and gangs, into which our lonely protagonist stumbles into.
It’s the second volume that really builds on the story only hinted at in Volume 1 and as such, it goes a long ways to develop this broken down world and its survivors, offering us up a cast of seemingly unsavoury types while hinting at Charlie’s childhood and the steps he had to take after his dad’s death. Whether he’ll survive long enough to see the end of this post apocalyptic adventure or not is another matter, and a story for another day. Or, third volume at least.