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[Comics] Genre games

Two new works find artists toying with convention

J. Caleb Mozzocco

Fantasy anthology Elfworld Vol. 1 (Family Style) has a single thematic joke holding its dozen or so short stories together, and it’s not a terribly strong one. These are all fantasy comics by small-press creators you wouldn’t normally expect to be working on fantasy comics.

Chief among them is Jeffrey Brown, who made his name with his autobio comics and has previously coasted on the delightful dissonance that comes from applying his name, reputation and style to genre comics with superhero parody Bighead and Transformers parody/celebration The Incredible Change-Bots.

Here Brown contributes a two-page gag strip and acts as “compiler,” rounding up similar talents to participate. The results are wildly uneven for such a short work. Some creators play perfectly straight with the material, some play too straight and end up with a kind of campy melodrama, and most play it for laughs, although all seem to play with a particular brand of sword-and-sorcery fantasy, that of late-’80s Dungeons & Dragons (the amount of time a reader has spent rolling 20-sided dice is probably directly proportional to how much they’ll get out of this book).

The strongest contributions are probably the longer pieces that eschew parody or self-seriousness for lighthearted genre exercises. For example, K. Thor Jensen, of recent Red Eye, Black Eye fame, offers a superior five-page strip about a quest for a lost city, and Kazmir Strzepek (Mourning Star) has a winning strip about a know-it-all bestiary artist trying to track down a basilisk for his book.

Other standouts include Martin Cendreda, who dresses up a sharp parody of the typical woe-is-me autobio indie strip in genre trappings, and Ansis Purins, who riffs on the ’70s intersection of drug and hippie-music culture with Tolkien-style fantasy.

Less iconoclastic toward the genre, but no less individual in its particular approach, is Jamie McKelvie’s Suburban Glamour No. 1 (Image Comics). McKelvie, whose collaboration with writer Kieron Gillen on Phonogram proved an Internet darling, is an artist with a bold sense of design (just check out that cover), and a style of character rendering that approaches the photographic in its level of representation.

McKelvie’s fun fantasy story grows from the normal kid/fairy world intersection that’s run through fantasy from C.S. Lewis to Harry Potter, but the kids here are older (high-schoolers) and the setting more familiar from teen movies than young-adult fiction (the small town where nothing ever happens, where everyone’s either a good-looking, likable hipster outcast or a negative teen stereotype).

This first issue of the series introduces us to main players Astrid and Dave and spends most of its pages focusing on the real, familiar world, which a fantasy one, represented by a visitation from Astrid’s old imaginary friends and some scary dreams, is only beginning to encroach upon.

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