This month’s small press spotlight sees us turn our attention to some shadowy contemporary crime in Point Blank, a case of supernatural writers block in Deadliner and a fantastical owl adventurer in Mossvale.
We’re always a sucker for a slice of hard boiled crime, as our glowing review of books like Cuddles and constant mentions of Criminal will attest. Which means we instantly knew we would enjoy this new collection from Aussie writer Alex Bennetts and Irish artist James Killian. Made up of 6 short stories this a slice of solid contemporary crime, full of guilty armed robbers, reformed villains and seasonal crooks. Each story weighs in at just 4 pages and so they are all fairly short and to the point, which is both good and bad. While none outstay their welcome a lot feel like they don’t quite have as much to say as they could. Unfortunately there is also no through thread or common theme and so it feels quite disjointed, but it has a certain simple charm to it as the stories are well constructed and deliver a nice self contained story in each one. While the stories have a wannabe Ed Brubaker or Greg Rucka feel to them, the art from Killian reminded us a bit of High Crimes’ Ibrahim Mustafa, and uses lots of strong shadows and smart composition to give it a moody and shadowy style. The scratchy artwork is quite loose and a bit amateurish in places, but it has this inherent charm to it and the whole thing just feels like a really well put together book from people who really care about the stories they are trying to tell. To say it’s not as good as Brubaker/Philips book is to set it unreachable expectations, but if you like that style of hard boiled story telling then this is worth checking out.
Its been a busy few months for Killtopia’s Dave Cook, with a new issue of his monster mech series coming soon and the recently reviewed BPM appearing here on the site. Joining this on his bibliography is Deadliner a psychological horror story about writers block. Inevitably with the subject matter, this reminded us of movies like Barton Fink and most obviously The Shining – especially with the writer in a rural retreat motif and The Overlook Hotel casts a long shadow over Deadliner. We’ll be honest here and say we aren’t the biggest fans of writers block themed stories as they trend to feel quite self referential. However Cook has crafted a pretty good example of the genre, which in part is helped by the darker elements he introduces – especially the artwork from Donna A Black. Her mixed media digital collage approach evokes memories of Dave McKean on The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch or Arkham Asylum and has the same chaotic and sinister feel to it. While the style feels quite dated, it is also one we haven’t seen for a while and so as with everything feels different by virtue of not being like everything else at the moment. While its subject matter and style may not be for everyone, it feels like a very personal and emotive book and one which Cook needed to get off his chest. A book like this often hinges on whether the writer is able to find something personal for you to hang your emotional baggage on, and the opener about a lost member of the comics community certainly resonated with us and may with others as well. In a way having this as a book that exists in addition to Dave’s other titles means it feels more praise worthy than if it was Cook’s first or only book. As such it feels like a chance for him to show the range of his writing and like a nice change of styles, all of which makes for an interesting book to go on his convention table alongside his more high profile titles.
We’re always a bit of a sucker for an anthropomorphic fantasy adventure and Travis Wells’ Mossvale hooked us in from the moment we first saw a pin up of our hero Nigel Hoo and tower knight Sir Lucius in action! This first issue of Travis’s epic quest does not disappoint as our hero Nigel embarks on a quest to capture a crystal and so seeks the help of tower night Sir Lucius. However when they do capture the stone it puts them on a path against the crystal’s owner and also the sinister Lord Crowley. While the plot of Mossvale is fairly straight forward and lacks any unique depth or complexity, it has this really simple charm to its story-telling. It helps that the hero Nigel is such a well realised character. Taking on the classic conventions of every fantasy wizard everywhere (but mostly channelling Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in our minds!), Nigel is a fastidious and particular character who contrasts well with the stubborn and slightly cowardly Lucius – not to mention the grandiose Mittens Tiger Slayer – the most bad ass of bad ass cats! While the characters are mainly straight out of the generic fantasy playbook, they have real life and charm breathed into them by Travis’ wonderful eye for detail and a knack for winning character design. While the animals may not quite have the technical craft of MULP or the realism of Scurry, they have a real charm to them and it is one of those books where its shortcomings are more endearing than a negative – and they certainly don’t impact the journey for the reader in a negative way. All in all Mossvale is a fun slice of fantasy adventure and is well worth setting out on a quest to discover!