The recipe for a great small press anthology is not easy – you have to mix story, artwork and sometimes even a smart concept, in order to make it into a winning product. Crow Song from writer Tony Vanraes is the latest small press collection to come under our gaze, but will this 4 story ensemble be worth crowing about?
Publisher: Anthony Vanraes
Writer: Tony Vanraes
Artist: Theo Brenni, Bentti Bisson, Justin Mason, Chris Anderson, Rob Jones
Price: TBC (contact @TonyVnrs on twitter)
With Crow Song, writer Tony Vanraes has brought together 4 subjectively similar stories and given them completely different art styles in order to really showcase the diversity of his writing. While his writing is very solid, his choice of collaborators is exceptional, as he brings together some really exciting new talent to create a comic which feels more like a sampler of four up and coming new series, rather than a stand alone anthology.
The first story, The Immolated Lady, is a slice of high fantasy and artist Theo Brenni brings to it an ornate and finely detailed black and white style. It gives the whole story a grandeur and an intricacy thanks to some incredible characterisation and also some innovative and unconventional panel designs. It has that mix of classic Conan fantasy, but with a hint of Saga’s style thrown in for good measure. It is then told in an almost Manga-esque format with high impact action and sublime black and white line work and colouring. The story is a simple revenge tale, but the presentation is incredible and works as an outstanding opener.
It’s followed by a pair of high concept swords and sci-fi stories. The Contract with art by Bentti Bisson sees human and aliens clash on another world. The artwork reminded us of Paul Moore’s work as it has a very hard edged, impactful feel to it that would feel right at home in 2000 AD. The characters talk tough and the action is hard and gritty, but there is an element of armour and heraldry too, giving it a slightly medieval tone to it as well. (In fact that is a theme all four stories share) Of the four this is perhaps the most open ended and feels most like an opening chapter, but is definitely the start of a series we’d love to see develop.
Another swords and sci-fi offering is Hatchling with art from Justin Mason which feels conceptually very similar to The Contract, but the art style is much more frenetic and expressive. It also feels much more swords than sci-fi with goblin-esque monsters and demonic bird-like helmets at the centre which made it feel at times like Nemesis the Warlock meets Trolltooth Wars. It’s more violent and bloody and the shift in tone from one to the other highlights our only negative of the issue, which is that there was no dividing element between the stories and so it was hard to when one finished and another began.
The final story, Squires (aka Jack and Danny save the Universe) is quite a contrast to the more serious tone of the previous book and feels more like a R-rated action adventure story akin to Matt Garvey’s Untitled Generic Space Comedy. Our heroes are a pair of futuristic ‘squires’ to a ‘knight’ in a giant mech suit. It has a touch of Warhammer about it (and they even make a joke of this) and the two run around joking about the futility of their life in the shadow of this super-solider, while trying to help him battle some otherworldly alien enemies. Od the four this feels the most different from the others, yet it also feels like the most complete concept and one which easily could be expanded into a much broader series as we learn the pair’s origins and more about the world they inhabit. The artwork is also much more cartoony and bright, but without being too shiny and saccharine.
Overall, Crow Song is one of the best anthologies we have seen in some time. The quality of art and story telling is exceptional and the range of styles on offer should be enough to satisfy most people’s tastes. Unlike many anthologies where we have to pick a few standouts to discuss, and the rest feel rather forgettable, all the stories in Crow Song are absolutely top drawer and we would love to see all them expanded out into longer series. If this anthology was intended as a calling card for Tony’s writing work, then he could not ask for a better collection of stories and we predict great things for him in the future.