Initially released via his Patreon, and then in the glorious newsprint Gateway City Quarterlys, Russell Mark Olson has brought to gather a fantastic new volume of pulp adventuring from the world of Gateway City , and it’s every bit as glorious as the first volume.
Publisher: Sassafras Press
Writer: Russell Mark Olson
Artist: Russell Mark Olson
Price: £8 from Russell’s Big Cartel Store
After the epic events of volume 1, Private Eye Lundy Lundquvist is still on the hunt for the murderer of his employer Wolf Schrier, but now he is joined on this mission by Wolf’s daughter Martha. Along the way they encounter Tommy-Gun wielding villains, dirty cops and some names and faces from the past who have begun to mysteriously reappear. Also, in the aftermath of these reappearances, the villains of Gateway City are beginning to get riled up and take each other out as well as pursue Lundy and Martha with a vengance.
For those new to the world of Gateway City, if you can imagine a pulp inspired world of gangsters and bootleggers similar to Dick Tracy. But instead of a rogues gallery of crooked hoods, it has a bunch of alien gangsters instead (courtesy of a dimension spanning gateway – hence the title – as well as being a reference to its setting of St Louis). It makes for a truly amazing world for Olson to play in, and it’s mix of eclectic characters remind us of the aforementioned Dick Tracy, mixed with the genre spanning world-building of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, and the wonderfully eclectic characters of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon. It’s a hell of a playground to create in, and you feel like Olson is challenging himself to create more weird and wonderful characters at every juncture – from blue skinned jazz singers, to piano playing bears and two faced femme fatales (and by two-faced, we literally mean with two faces!).
While the first volume was a tour de force, of pulp story telling and visuals, this new volume feels even more ambitious. Olson is channelling his love of the pulps, but also it has this Euro sensibility to it as well, as well as galaxy spanning sci-fi elements as well. From the jazz infused opening chapter to the gritty downtown scenes later on this pack in every genre trope you could ask for, as well as a bunch you didn’t even know you needed. This sheer scale of intent, means Olson is really pushing the boundaries on every page – especially with the visuals, which has really taken a noticeable step up.
Olson has clearly grown in confidence thanks to his work on Study in Scarlet and SKRAWL, and these new Gateway stories feel both more polished and also more experimental as a result. Perhaps it is the Patreon publishing model, or the larger format newsprint book which sees Russell really go out with some ambitious and imaginative layouts – especially the scenes involving Bumper in the final 3rd – and the combination of some glorious hand drawn lettering and sound effects that are intertwined with the artwork would make Will Eisner jealous. There is also a richness to the colouring as well, especially in the Parisien scenes at the beginnings and the night club scenes later on. While the first one felt full of faded glory, this one is like a lush and rich Art Nouveau painting that seems to mirror Olson’s confidence in his own creation.
As a result of this desire to experiment and push things forward and further, there is a slightly chaotic feel to this collection. The story feels like it jumps around from one place to the next without ever really resolving anything, and at just 60 pages it feels more like the first part of a longer journey than the smooth arc that we saw in the first volume. This may of course change as the story progresses and we move through the gears, but this volume feels much more like a short sharp jolt, like a shot of bootleg liquor, rather than a long drink of a fine wine. Both of which have their appeal of course, but after this we just found ourselves wanting more rather than having our thirst quenched.
At the end of the day, more Gateway City is a million times better than no Gateway City as this is a really special book. As is often the case in small press, seeing a creator find their way and work through the miss-steps on a journey is part of the appeal and this is definitely one of those cases. Olson is aiming for the sky, and beyond into the stars, with this series and while it is not the smoothest of trajectory right now, the trail of brilliance it is leaving behind is something truly wonderful to behold.