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FanExpo Review Round-Up

Obviously with FanExpo, and then TIFF, I haven’t had much time for my usual comics review (though there’s certainly some good stuff on the stack), but at FanExpo I did get plenty of chances to read a whole load of interesting comic books.  Here then, are my thoughts on a few of them.

Max Overacts

Four strips in, Max Overacts found it’s way into my daily webcomics feed.  It’s the kind of comic that strongly recalls the early days of the webcomic explosion, when everyone was trying to recreate the syndicated newspaper comic strip style, whilst creating the kinds of comics that would never quite make it in syndication (Sluggy Freelance, PvP and Schlock Mercenary all come to mind).  In fact in a lot of ways Max Overacts feels older still; Canaan spoke to me of his immense respect for Charles Schulz, and it shows in his style, which recalls much of what made the world of Peanuts so instantly lovable.

The biggest lesson Canaan has taken from Charles is just that; creating a world, and not just a character.  Just as with Calvin & Hobbes, to which it also bears similarities, we see the things Max does not; we see how his parents cope with his preciousness, we see his friends and family, and even the inanimate objects brought to life by the force of his imagination.  I have a particular fondness for his mother, who demonstrates a keen intelligence, and a joyful nature that flies in the face of the usual “long suffering” parent figure in these kinds of stories.

Taken at it’s broadest level, there’s not a lot about Max Overacts that will surprise you.  It’s a familiar kind of comic strip, told in a familiar way, but the details are where it shines.  Canaan has adopted a familiar style, but has done so with a consciousness of the subtleties that draw us in.  The idea is not new, but in the execution, it shines.

Empty Words

Empty Words begins with a young woman, Audrey, who works in a nursing home, dealing with the death of a resident for the first time.  From this starting point the story evolves into a clever little tale of twenty-something romance, set against the hard choices involved in living with family, and living with ourselves when success demands more than we are willing to give.

Ben depicts, with astonishing fidelity, the psychological rigours of working long nights, bathing and feeding elderly residents, who could be anything from loving and gentle to outright abusive, and I was surprised at how well Audrey’s feelings about her work echoed my own experiences.

In a larger sense, the story is engaging, though the suspense sometimes fail to really engage.  With the exception of a few well crafted turns, we are rarely in any doubt as to how the story will play out between our two protagonists, and there aren’t really enough supporting characters around to throw in the needed curve-balls or differences of opinion.  Still, the leads are both well crafted characters, with genuine emotional pull, and the story is substantial enough.  Ben definitely has talent, and a clear desire to push himself as a writer, and I would certainly like to see more from him (at some point I’ll certainly be checking out his next story, Snow).

The art is a strong complement to the story work, with the real skill lying in how well Ben captures the emotions of his characters, in their expressions and body language.  The colours feel a little flat, and there’s something about the noses and lips that I found a little off, but these are small complaints, and overall it’s a well crafted style the perfectly suits the quiet, careful pacing of the work.

If I had one real complaint, it would be that everything felt a little too… ‘safe’.  Nothing about the story stands out as particularly daring, or new.  I’m not saying everything has to be James Joyce, but something about Empty Words feels a little too much like it’s staying firmly inside the lines.  Still, these complaints aside, I enjoyed the comic a lot, and I would certainly reccomend you check it out.

Snakor’s Pizza

In the first five pages of Snakor’s Pizza, team GI Joe, or at least their thinly veiled analogues, milked for every ounce of comedic potential (“Grenadeballs”… heh heh) take down a giant, flaming, karate penguin.

Giant.  Flaming.  Karate.  Penguin.

Oh yeah, it’s one of those alright.

Overall, the series is pretty brain-bending, and the humour is tight.  It’s also littered with little sight-gags and references (like Mr T working a telemarketing pyramid scheme) that are a lot of fun.  Unfortunately the “crazy dial” does sometimes get turned up so high that story itself seems to lose focus, and the arcs are not nearly as tightly plotted as, say, Dr McNinja, but what the hell, it’s a laugh riot, and it has a giant flaming karate penguin.

Sometimes that’s all you really need.

Freelance Blues

Sitting firmly in the “quirky monster hunter” genre, alongside The Goon, Hellboy, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, We Kill Monsters, and a few other notables, Freelance Blues is the story of Lance, a young man drifting from job to job, never quite able to catch a break, as every new workplace turns out to be the seat of some evil plan for world domination.

If you hadn’t guessed yet, it’s a comedy.  And as a comedy about a guy who fights monsters, it’s solid.  The humour is solid, the character is interesting, and the crazy dial ticks up a few notches.  That being said, where the comic really found it’s stride, for me, was when Lance’s sisters were introduced and we shifted from “Lance vs Monsters” to “Lance’s life problems”, which seems to be the real heart of the story.  Just as with Hellboy and The Goon, the monsters are really just a distraction from the main story of these characters dealing with their own personal demons.

What I’ve read of the comic so far is promising, and whilst it’s not Hellboy (let’s face it, not much is), it’s a worthy entry into the field, and definitely deserves a look.

The Anthology Project

Reading the Anthology Project recalls the joy I used to feel, digging through second hand book sales for volumes of science fiction short stories.  Every book was a jumbled mass of styles and voices, each story opening up something different.  Some fell flat, failed to make their mark on me at all.  Others were deeply affecting, and lived with me long after.

That’s what the Anthology Project is like.  You won’t fall in love with every story, but something in here will make it’s mark on you.  The collection, as a whole, is just too beautiful not to make some kind of an impact.  And the art is, from start to finish, incredible.  Every piece is vivid, enticing, and utterly unique.  As a celebration of the diversity of artistic style alone, The Anthology Project is a wonder.


I am deeply in love with Tanpopo.  The idea is simple, but extremely well executed; take Faustus, and illustrate it using a pair of characters that combine aspects of manga style with a kind of steampunk fairy-tale science fiction flight of fancy.  Oh, and make the main character female, just to further unseat our expecations.

Perhaps the most delightful result is the effect this has on the poetry that opens the piece (and which Camilla wisely echoes throughout the first book).  By spacing the lines out across multiple pages, and frequently arranging them in disjointed aspects, Camilla forces us to read with a kind of precision that we normally lack.  It’s the problem most people have with enjoying poetry; we read the words, but we don’t take the time to unpack them.  Poetry is an incredibly compressed medium, where a lot is compacted into every word, line, and punctuation mark.  It demands time, and we’re a generation that has has learned to read too quickly.

The art is beautiful, the more so for it’s deliberate chaos.  Stark lines stand out against the generous white backgrounds, and the lack of set dressing keeps our focus entirely on the characters and the words.  The illustration never overwhelms the text, but enhances it, subtly, but powerfully.

It’s a beautiful piece of work, and one that I cannot help but reccomend.

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