Time is a River?

Article by, Drew Van Genderen

Paradox Girl #1
Writer: Cayti Elle Bourquin
Artist: Yishan Li
Editor: Peter Bensley 
Publisher: Georgina Bensley
Imprint: Hana Comics

Paradox Girl has a strange ability. She can go back in time and teleport through space, going anywhere and anywhen she'd like. Many times this ability is used to go back in time and purchase the 1980's breakfast food Waffos, but besides that she also uses it for fighting villainy. Paradox Girl, through her many travels, has created a multitude of copies of herself throughout history, that typically all wind up at her house. These paradoxes follow her into battle, and help/perish to stop an enemy, alongside the hero Axiom Man, who continuously works to get her to refine her abilities.

Bourquin builds a fun character with a unique superpower. More than that, she doesn't take the time travel too serious, providing a store with much less confusion then your regular time jumping character story. Paradox Girl is a ton of fun, and she isn't worried or afraid of what comes next, rather she is just enjoying the experiences while she has them. Axiom Man is an interesting teacher for Paradox Girl, who makes sure he knows that although her handle on her abilities will continue to improve, she will always be herself. With an enjoyable ability that she uses for good as much as she does for selfish fun, Paradox Girl is a light character in an easy to get into and immediately enjoyable comic. Bourquin does a great job of providing contrast through Paradox Girl and her many copies, providing readers with a strong sense of the character by the end of the first issue. I could see this being a tough story to write, as most time travel characters are, but Bourquin does it with grace and ease of accessibility for readers.

Yishan Li has taken on one hell of a task: drawing multiple copies of the same character each doing different poses/actions on almost every page. Not only that, but taking all of those versions and throwing them against a large monster in a way that is easy to view and stilll enjoyable, those are the makings of a stellar artist. The character model for Paradox Girl is very much that of a stereotypical business woman. Hair in a bun, pencil skirt, shoulder pads, etc etc. However, her blond hair, pale skin, and striking blue eyes will definitely draw the eye to her. Axiom Man, her mentor, looks like a parody on superheroes. Sun glasses, star emblem, armor suit, the whole deal. He is definitely more of a background character, especially when compared to the sheer number of Paradox Girls, but the enemy that the two of them fight does a good job of showing how his advice aids our heroine. Speaking of the enemy, a large Godzilla-esque monster parades through the streets, giving Paradox Girl a chance to show off her unique ability as we see her traveling through different time periods, each with very different looks, to come up with a way to take him down. Between the way Li showcases Paradox Girl's abilities, her atypical superhero appearance, and the comedy beats that she catches from Bourquin's writing, the art is very impressive.

What's that?! You love time travel?! AND awesome female characters in offbeat adventures?! Then look no further! Cayti Elle Bourquin and Yishan Li have figured out how to take the confusion out of time paradox and replace it with a very unique brand of fun. From this issue, the story could go literally anywhere that has ever been, and I'm sure it'll be a blast. You can pick up the first issue of this comic digitally or in print at http://www.paradoxgirl.com/ for a very affordable price.

Technology Embargo

Article by, Drew Van Genderen

Cyber Realm
Writer/Artist: Wren McDonald
Publisher: NoBrow 

The world is in ruins! Picking up the pieces and putting it togetehr as he sees fit is the tyrant known as "The Master" and his radical goons. Yes, the world is a lawless place, but there is one man on a quest for justice. Following an extremely tragic circumstance, Nicolas has found a way to break into the forbidden Cyber Realm, where all of the technology has been locked up. While there, he received cybernetic enhancements that provide him with a means of avenging those who have been wronged by The Master. All he has to do is get through some intense bruisers to get to him.

Wren McDonald has crafted a scenario set in a gritty yet enjoyable world By enjoyable, I mean enjoyable for the reader, the characters seem to be having a pretty rough go. In this one shot book we are introduced to a multitude of eccentric and insane characters and a protagonist that won't stay down. McDonald's writing mixes 80's action/scifi tropes to form the badass Nicolas as he rampages through a world with a mysterious past that slowly gets revealed as the story goes on. Include the past of Nicolas himself, tragedy and all. Not only that, but as Nicolas goes through the gauntlet of rogues in The Master's army we see a ton of characterization that makes the villains perfectly outrageous and unique. A ton of stuff has happened before this issue, and a ton is bound to happen in the events following, but instead of providing an overabundance of facts, McDonald leaves us to our own devices to imagine what made everything the way it is, and what's to come. For that, I applaud him. Many comics will spell things out for you, leading to the conclusion the writer wants you to reach. By allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions, the story becomes much more in depth and really makes you think, and the details that get you from point A to point B really help enrich that.

McDonald's art looks like an apocalyptic episode of Superjail or Adventure Time. The character models and how they interact with eachother is a real treat. Where the detail really comes in is their augmentations and outfits. Obviously, Nicolas has a robotic head, arm, and leg, but instead of taking the path of simple, sleek design McDonald has chosen to show us a marvel of gadgetry in this technology free world. Not to mention the way he's drawn using these improvements, particularly in fight scenes, are perfectly violent and just a ton of fun. From there we have the strange dress of the army and The Master himself, but my favorite outfit was that of General Dark Edge, who has this crazy B-movie style get up with a cape that is constantly in motion. To put it simply, it's just great character design. Environment wise, everything is dirty and messy, making it very understandable how bad things truly are, until we get to certain buildings throughout the story. The architecture of said buildings is fantastical and provides more oddity for the reader to enjoy. Finally I'd like to mention the colors. Made of muted tones, Cyber Realm's peculiar setting is further exaggerated and realized, tyingthe environments and the characters that inhabit it together perfectly.

Cyber Realm is a fun return to form in terms of B-movie type stories, the difference being that this book has an endless amount of quality in it. From reading the story, to thinking about it after, to undoubtedly reading it again, Wren McDonald has given us a dangerously enjoyable story with no shortness in quality and detail to take in. Really treat yourself by picking this book up this book for only $5.95.

Space Makes You Think

Article by, Drew Van Genderen

After the Gold Rush #1
Writer: Miles Greb
Art: Isaac La Russo
Color: Michael Shepard
Letters: Jamie Me

Following a very successful, staff endorsed, Kickstarter campaign, After The Gold Rush is finally out in the world, and oh how lucky the world is. Giving the reader an immediate taste of the stories atmosphere and logic, we see Scout's ship departing one planet only to crash on another. Quickly recovering from the crash, Scout approaches this foreign landscape with an instant sense of possibility, positivity, and wonder, studying what she can and getting acclimated with this green, livable landscape. As she not only studies, but experiences what the world has to offer, she is unaware that following close by are individuals who are made uneasy and dangerous by her arrival. 

Miles Greb stretches out his wings to write a scifi story that may, in the long run, give just as much credence to the science as the fiction. Within the first few pages we see the science based view of the universe and Scout's understanding of it. When this ideology meets with that of this clearly primitive species on her trail, there is bound to be some powerful contrast. Scout, as a character, is a breath of fresh air. She exhibits remarkable confidence despite her unfortunate situation, and really stands out as someone who wants to see how the world works rather than be frightened of how different it is. The way she takes everything in and provides not only herself, but the reader with details on this planet is an excellent and seamless vehicle for context as well as a small glimpse into Scout's home planet. With every single panel, Greb includes facts and information that show what Scout is familiar with as well as what makes this planet new. Most of the story is told through Scout herself, with the dialogue erring on the side of charm, levity, and discovery, while still understanding the gravity of her situation. This realistic style of characterization makes her immediately enjoyable to the reader. Miles and I had a conversation right before the Kickstarter went up (notes and episode can be found here), and this issue leads me to believe that the story is going to be just as unique, thought provoking, and enjoyable as promised.

Isaac La Russo has an almost loose lined, sketchy approach to Scout and the planet, while still giving a large amount of detail and giving the book a tight, yet whimsical look. The environments are primarily forest in this first issue, and with that comes a dense landscape of trees, providing lots of areas for Scout to explore, and her pursuers to observe. The technology she has brought with her is enjoyably classic in terms of her ship, and futuristically understandable when it comes to her hologram displays used to provide facts and archive data. What stands out most about her is the expressions on her face as she explores, all over the spectrum from surprised to pleased to curious. The character herself just has a certain energy about her that makes the reader instantly attached, and her expressive facial features really add to that. When her pursuers are finally revealed, there is a twinge of fear as we see some sinister looking figures, but based off of the given context and the movement of the story, there is clearly more there. Michael Shepard provides colors that make the leafy environments pop even more, and make Scout in her space suit look truly alien on the space she's inhabiting. This set up issue is clearly starting to build an enormous world, and La Russo's style is perfect for providing the beauty, whimsy, and at times intensity that it deserves.

After The Gold Rush is treading new ground, and this first issue is just the start of it. There is a saga in the making here, and it's had one hell of a premier. Greb and La Russo have a story that they absolutely need to tell, and I personally can't wait for the next chapter. If you like science fiction, enjoyable characters, having something to think about, and a hell of a cliffhanger, then head over to the book's Indiegogo page and pick it up (as well as some truly awesome perks).

Women at War

Article by, Mariah Senecal

Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Matthew Woodson
Color: Jordie Bellaire
Cover Artist: Tula Lotay
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics  

In celebration of women’s history month this review focuses on Rebels, the historical fiction comic series written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Demo). Rebels #7 is a standalone issue based on the American folktale of “Molly Pitcher.” Pitcher wasn’t a real woman, rather, it was a name chosen to represent what many women did in early American wars; they followed the army cooking, cleaning, hauling water and foraging surrounding areas for food. In addition to these tasks several women engaged in actual combat either by disguising themselves as men or simply by joining the fight when the situation called for it. Rebels #7 tells the story of an extraordinary woman named Sarah Hull who stood by her husband’s side during the war, and even took his place in battle when it became necessary. As much as this is a story of bravery and love, it is also the untold story of many women who were never recognized or rewarded for their contributions in early American wars. Brian Wood is joined by the remarkable artist Matthew Woodson (Northlanders, Meathaus) and Jordie Bellaire completes the comic with her stunning coloring skills.

Sarah Hull is described as untameable and was viewed as an irreplaceable asset to her husband’s cadre. Most of her story is told through a letter written to the American government by her husband as he explains the circumstances of their meeting and marriage, and ultimately her role in the Saratoga campaign. Sarah’s husband, Sam Hull, was a Captain in the army and after his passing he requested that his wife be granted not only half of his military pension, which was customary, but also her own full military pension for her services in the war. In his letter he describes the extreme lengths Sarah went to as both a camp follower and a woman who engaged in combat. This story may not be entirely factual, but there were many women like Sarah Hull during the American Revolutionary War who have never been recognized or compensated for their service.

This issue (so presumably the whole series) of Rebels is extremely well written. It effortlessly blends a heartwarming love story with American Folklore and some history you may not know to create an epic recognition of women during the American Revolutionary War. Brian Wood is passionate about historical comics and this is undoubtedly apparent through his writing. The story is half told through a letter recounting past events and is coupled with dialogue between characters to set the perfect scene. Wood uses a tone and language appropriate for the time period, and he uses dialogue sparingly and appropriately throughout the issue. I truly enjoyed and savored every word of this comic in a way that I usually save for my favorite novels. Wood asks his readers to open their eyes to the reality of our history, and to read between the lines to do so. Many of the issues he presents are clear, but to get a true understanding of his goal I would highly recommend reading the page long afterward at the end of this comic. 

Matthew Woodson is an extremely talented freelance illustrator who has worked for dozens of clients including Dark Horse, Image and Vertigo comics, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and many more. His work is versatile, as it seamlessly captures not only the intensity of being at war, but also the tranquility and passivity of the natural world. Each panel is a beautiful work of art, and Woodson’s depiction of Sarah Hull shows her to be both joyous and fierce. His work is almost painfully expressive as he is capable of capturing the love shared between Sarah and Sam, and also the horrors of being at war. I could spend days talking about the art in this issue. Woodson says so much without using words, and coupled with Jordie Bellaire’s brilliant coloring this issue is phenomenal. Bellaire’s coloring depicts eerily orange skylines lit with cannon fire and the gritty reality of being at war. 

This is an extraordinary story of love, bravery, and pride, yet to Sarah Hull it was simply an account of her dedication to her country. She fought by her husband’s side when she was needed, and never complained about the lack of recognition. Although this story may not be entirely factual, there are many accounts like this one that were never fully recognized. In honor of women’s history month you can read about some extraordinary women here, and if you’d like to jump straight to a relevant stories about women in the American Revolution start here. The creative team did a fantastic job with this issue, and having read only the 7th so far, I feel some historical fiction may be in my future. Rebels #7 was published on October 14th, 2015 by Dark Horse Comics, and can be found on Amazon or through Dark Horse. 

On a side note, if you like the idea of women fighting equally alongside men you should definitely check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (go ahead and bring a copy of Rebels to the theatre and read it during the previews!)  What better way to celebrate women than reading historical fiction and watching badass ladies kill zombies!

Death Can Be Strange

Article by, Matt Gorman

The Life After vol. 1
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Artist: Gabo 

It’s an age-old question, one the colloquial “we” have been exploring since the first hominid came online as a sentient being and had that shattering epiphany that it all might end: What happens when we die? The Life After, written by Joshua Hale Fialkov (Ultimates, Hunger) explores a different take on the Christian model of the afterlife. With bio-mechanical angels, all-seeing potatoes, and a late great American novelist, Fialkov shakes up standard Ecclesiastes. All throughout, the reader is led through what is in essence, a grandiose exposition. The reader is shown a bizarre and surreal version of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Exploring this strangeness, we learn of the protagonist’s ability to see the deeds of the denizens of the afterlife, and ultimately what brought them to where they are. With gorgeous and gut-wrenching visuals from Gabo (Elephantmen, Albert the Alien) Fialkov’s story is invigorating and new.

Ernest Hemingway, the nigh legendary author plays the guide and companion to Jude, a man who like Hemingway, has regained his free-will in the eternal loop of purgatory. Suicide victims, both of them, they stick together, Jude’s ability cuing them slowly into the structure and nature of the Life After. All around them, souls play out and replay the mode of their demise as penance for the deed, until Jude touches them. Prying into the events leading up to each soul’s demise, Jude finds he can do much more than merely see. All the while, Jude and Hemingway are beset upon by nightmarish versions of celestial beings, from both ends of the spectrum. Behind the scenes and beyond Jude and Hemingway’s knowledge, another plot unfolds.

I typically hesitate to use the word “visionary,”  but in this case, it well-describes Fialkov’s writing. The pacing of the overall story, and adherence to a continuity are excellent, as well as for individual scenes. I found many great transitional scenes as well, rather than just jumping here to there. Jude’s visions change-up and add interest and color amidst his and Hemingway’s journey. As for character development, it’s intriguing to watch Jude piece together the grand scheme laid out around him, and to see how it affects his psyche. There are legions of emotions and enigmas for him to deal with all at once, and you can see it in his actions as well as in his face.

Demons, angels, viscera, and *shudder* bureaucrats, Gabo renders the worlds of the life After with a unique style and flair. At first I was put off from his linework, but that soon subsided as I became engrossed in the story, and became rather fond of his style. Like licorice or a hard IPA, Gabo’s style may be an acquired taste, but that being said, it is expertly crafted. The quality of production, especially in the color department, is exceptional. Gabo shows a command of light and shadow that reflects the nature of the story, one of dualities itself. This may be Fialkov’s story, but Gabo has made it what it is, in every frame and moment of distorted and monstrous creatures. I consider illustration to be a tool to help tell a story, while fine art tells a story in and of itself. Gabo finds a middle-ground here, a balance of telling Fialkov’s story and telling his own.

There are still tomes worth of unanswered questions. Like I said, this is primarily an exposition, an introduction, and a foundation. While this is the case, the Life After isn’t devoid of it’s own arcs, of course, and what we see are a handful of stories that begin to play out. With Fialkov’s storytelling, Gabo’s creature design and sense of color bring it all together, and make the Life After truly stand out. I am thrilled to see what the next installment has in store. The Life After vol.1 was published July 28th 2015, and is available digitally and in print for $9.99 and $15.80 respectively.

Hard Truths

Article by, Drew Van Genderen 
TRIGGER WARNING: This book/article discusses sexual abuse, harassment, & violence 

Writer/Artist: Maria Stoian

Every day people go through a multitude of struggles. For some people, those struggles include sexual aggression, persecution, and assault. We constantly hear about these tragic events in the media, but Maria Stoian (portfolio) has taken the opportunity to show them first hand, as well as the events leading up to them. She does so in hopes that people will see these issues, realize that they are there, and notice warning signs to prevent them. To further authenticate the subject, she has enlisted numerous men and women to share their tales, the results are powerful.

Take It As A Compliment, features true stories of sexually exploitative events that have happened to people. Each is an eye opening story of different scenarios with one thing in common, a wronged victim. Scenarios include many we may have previously only witnessed on TV or in the movies brought to reality such as drunken coercion, blackmail, the discomfort from feeling followed, as well as other unfathomable situations. Many of these stories do show the tragedies that result from these actions, but there are also a handful of stories where a character will speak up, resulting in realistic consequences that range from prevention to embarrassment. Shown through a variety of people from numerous age groups, genders, and walks of life, this books shows an unfortunate but honest look into sexual abuse. Essentially, we are given snapshots into these events, and clearly in a way that works her illustration in with her writing, Stoian manages to hit every powerful beat. Some stories have dread that just hits you at the end, while others start at a normal point and build up a feeling of unease throughout.

Maria Stoian took the information that she was given and has illustrated every one with deviations in style and color, giving each testimony the attention and respect that it deserves. Stoian's stylistic choices soften the blow of the stories just enough so that they are more approachable to the readers. With a book and subject matter of this nature, it is easy for readers to choose not to participate or be put off, and that's totally understandable, some of these peoples' stories are very tough to get through. That being said, Maria's approach and the carefully chosen order of these testimonies makes the subject matter as easy as possible (I use the term easy extremely loosely) for people who would like to know more on the subject and more than anything else, just be aware of it. The subject matter is hard, and Stoian handles it incredibly well, but I don't want to sell her art short amidst these situations. The book is clearly about raising awareness, but please also note the craftsmanship and uniqueness of her art style, and the distinctly different tone it gives each story.

Maria Stoian's book is an important and powerful read. With events drenched in reality and situations that are understandable from all angles (perhaps moreso for some than others), the message comes across loud and clear. Many times, a visual representation helps individuals understand events or in this case the presence of certain acts much better, and this graphic novel does that heartwrenchingly well. This isn't a happy read and many of the stories don't have pleasant conclusions, but all the same the book is an important representation of horrific crimes, sex acts in this case, which happen every day. Check it out, and raise awareness.

Beware of Strangers

Premiere Article by, Abigael Puritz

Suicide Forest

Writer: Dave Baker
Artist: Nicole Goux

It's rare to read a comic which, from the first couple pages, feels immediately more like a film than a comic in the usual sense. The new comic “Suicide Forest” written by Dave Baker and illustrated by Nicole Goux, is one that immediately sets out to turn the typical format of the comic book on its head. This is a comic that takes its time and forces the action to move slowly, which, combined with the seemingly innocuous setting of a typical suburban home, actually succeeds in creating a truly unsettling and upsetting experience. 

Producing a tidy synopsis of this story is not an easy task, due to the fact that actually, very little really “happens” in the traditional sense. What does happen is largely one emotionally charged event, which goes by in excruciating slowness. This creates the conditions for the reader to have a shockingly authentic empathetic experience. The story begins with clues, a man holding a mask, a dark suburban street at night, a map, a knife, handcuffs, miscellaneous odds and ends like sharpies and a half eaten cliff bar.  These items throw the reader into detective mode, trying to piece together what's occurring, with no apparent protagonist to help guide their inquiry. The story then proceeds to the main setting, a suburban home at night, presumably the one seen at the beginning of the book. It is from here that the main mode of the story begins, in the uncommon format of panelless pages, showing the same room from two angles, switching back and forth, for the rest of the book.  In a way that kind of reminds me of the Alfred Hitchcock film “Rope”  this experiment in format pays off much to the benefit of the narrative. 

Baker's writing is, by and large, hard to pin down in this story, due it its peculiar construction. I applaud Mr. Baker for his willingness to eschew the usual format of “character set up, world set up, twist”. Instead he opts for sparse text, with sound effects actually doing much of the work in narrating the action. The writing seems to take much more of the role of “director” such as in a movie, rather than creating a lot of dialogue or complex storyline. Also unique to this style of small press comic is the inclusion of an essay at the end, which is more than a simple conclusion, rather it plays a very important part in illuminating the thought process behind the emotional gut punch which is this story. Baker writes in a raw and honest manner, which in no way diminishes the mysterious nature of the story, but connects it to his own personal experiences and thus the experiences of the reader.   

The art of “Suicide Forest”, by Nicole Goux, is honestly not what I would have imagined a story like this to look like, and that plays to its benefit as well. The drawings are both rendered in a unfussy and shockingly un-melodramatic pen lines and smooth grays, with the occasional splash or streak of ink. Upon second and third inspection, I noticed a distinct and unsettling change in the hue of the shades of gray around the middle of the book, from cool to warm. The almost cartoony style of drawing lies at a stark contrast from the usual horror comic style, which often relies as much on over detailed and rendered-to-death value contrasts to convey much of the fright. Goux's style, while creepy at times, is straight forward, and trusts the excellent writing of Baker (and the unique framing and pace) to carry its fair share of the dread and emotional weight. This sharing of responsibilities with regards to conveying the story's sense of fear allows Goux the opportunity, which she seems to take with gusto, to focus on human details which are really at the heart of the story- the objects in the room, the posters on the walls, the facial expressions of the characters at the moment the finally appear and dwell in the readers limited field of view.   

Overall, this story is a a unique, personal tale of horror, loss, and absence, all told in realtime. The combination of Baker's enigmatic storytelling with Goux's deceptively simple drawings creates an engrossing, suspenseful tale. I'm also always excited for comics which experiment with the format of the medium itself, especially in this case where the premise of the experiment seems so obvious, yet so under explored. I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for more titles by this duo! Pick up this book and more by the team here!