Slush Pile: Telling Tales, The Cape, Lords of Death and Life, Anne Steelyard

The Cape #1 (of 4)

The Cape #1

written by Jason Ciaramella, based on a short story by Joe Hill
art by Zach Howard
IDW Publishing, $3.99

I don’t know where to start in describing how repulsive this all is. First, there’s the marketing. This is being advertised as “Joe Hill’s Cape”, from “the writer of Locke & Key”, but the actual credits say something a bit different, as shown above. Second, there’s the numbering — it’s called a first issue, but it actually continues from a one-shot from last December. As I found out after reading, the contents make more sense if you’ve read that previous comic. For example, what I thought was a scene with different characters turns out to be a flashback.

Then there’s the actual content. A loser, still living at home and jealous of his doctor brother, gets a stupid-looking kids’ cape that actually gives him superpowers, so he uses them to murder in gruesome ways those he thinks are against him. Most of the story so far turns on him beating up an ex-girlfriend who dumps him. While we don’t see the violence, we get to hear in lurid details how much he injured her. (And in his fantasies of how she’s bad-mouthing him after their breakup, there’s a gratuitous nude shot, just to reinforce that women are objects to drive the story of what guys do.)

I liked this book better when it was called HERO and written by Will Pfeifer. (Same concept, of regular person given magic powers through a device, same treatment, that they use it for selfish, vengeful purposes.) That version gave hope of a positive ending and didn’t wallow in bad behavior the way this issue does. I miss cover labels, because since the cover looks like a typical wish-fulfillment for the young male comic shop crowd, I fear that this is going to end up in hands of those too young for it. “For mature readers”, given the blood and language, would be appropriate.

Lords of Death and Life

Lords of Death and Life cover

by Jonathon Dalton
Self-published, $10

An intriguing idea — use pre-Columbian Mayan art as an influence — isn’t as well-executed as I had hoped, with a muddled story and uneven pacing. Mol has dreams of visiting the underworld. He travels to a large city to find someone to help him interpret their meaning, where he gets swept up in tribal disputes and discovers the spirit that inhabits him.

It started as a webcomic, which is the best way to sample it, since a page-a-day pace accounts for the stop-and-go storytelling. The art is lovely, though, and it’s pleasant to see such a different tradition reflected. The figure work is particularly strong in expressiveness.

I think I would have rather seen a non-fiction book on the subject of Mayan culture, illustrated in a similar way, but focusing on explaining on the civilization and daily life in it without the spirit fights.

Anne Steelyard: The Garden of Emptiness: A Thousand Waters

written by Barbara Hambly
art by Ron Randall, Aaron McConnell, and James Taylor
Penny Farthing Press, $14.95

This is the third and final volume in a short graphic novel series that began in 2009. As with many book-author-driven projects, the design of the cover leaves something to be desired. They get Hambly’s name on there, big and bold, but the artists aren’t mentioned. Neither is the book’s status as sequel; that’s included in the back cover text. One might think that the publisher wanted Hambly fans to buy the book without knowing exactly what it contained, or that they would be missing out on most of the story setup by buying the last volume first. (There is a full text page of “story so far” first thing in the book, but it’s somewhat overwhelming, and frankly, with its talk of evil wizards and angels and afrits, silly.)

Anne Steelyard is an archeologist in 1908. Previously lost in the desert, she’s now traveling with a caravan run by Lady Hester. They want to reach Basra to warn British authorities that Germans are planning to attack.

This graphic novel has a problem inherent in having an author new to the medium — it’s not very well integrated when it comes to text and pictures working together. Everyone speaks in copious exposition, so in many cases, you can tell what’s going on without looking at the images. That’s a waste of the medium. The art is competent, with figures posed around the copious word balloons, but stiff.

I was somewhat interested in reading an historical desert adventure, but then the psychic spirit-casting and demon battles showed up, and I was done. The plot was far-fetched enough without turning supernatural. Typical of such tales, Anne wears skin-tight jodhpurs to show off her butt, and when in danger, her shirt rips attractively to reveal plenty of cleavage.

Telling Tales

by Various
Sweatdrop Studios, $13.99

Sweatdrop Studios, a UK comic collective with manga influences, has assembled a collection of eight lesser-known fables and fairytales illustrated by its members… and one guest, Svetlana Chmakova (Dramacon). I always enjoy her work, and the illustrations here are no exception, but I’m left wondering what the point was of the Russian folktale she chose. The message seems to be “beware of strangers, because they could be witches who try to kill you and take your place, but you won’t really die, so it’s ok in the end”. I guess I’d boil it down to “family loyalty”.

Emma Vieceli’s art is also lovely, especially in her story of three princessess with glass hearts, which makes them fragile. It’s a slight tale, pretty and somewhat empty in its traditional romance, like the hearts of the tale. Joanna Zhou tells of “The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage”, who all live together. Her cartoony style is just right for the silly premise, until it turns surprisingly gloomy and gruesome. I like the theme, of not letting others interrupt a process that works for you, but I certainly wouldn’t show this to kids!

Irina Richards returns to another Russian folktale, but I found her over-reliance on manga-style chibi exaggeration and caricature not well-suited for the material. I wanted to see more of a comeuppance for the selfish character, and the pacing dragged.

“The Prince and the Pauper”, by Rebecca Burgess, and “Little Red Riding Hood”, by Marubelle Sinclaire, will be the most familiar stories in the book to most readers. Burgess’ style I didn’t care for; it looked unfinished and resembled an editorial cartoon, which I thought it would be better suited for. The text disappears halfway through, relying on wordless storytelling, which lost my interest. Sinclaire’s work is sparsely illustrated, relying too much on single figure shots or closeups, putting the storytelling work on the text.

“The Snow Queen” by Sonia Leong needed bolder lines, shading, and/or black spots. It looks like pencil work as is, without the sense of weight some shadows would give it. It improves a bit later on with some dark clothing and a raven, but not enough.

“The Three Feathers” is the most accomplished piece, with the most creators. Art is by Faye Yong (who also edited the book and provided the cover) with tones by Nana Li and script by Fehed Said. A simpleton prince meets a frog queen, who helps him win the kingdom his kind heart deserves. It’s got echoes of both Cinderella and the Frog Prince in it, but overall, I found the mix fresh while keeping within a traditional fairytale structure. It was my favorite.

All books were provided by the publishers for review.

2 Responses to “Slush Pile: Telling Tales, The Cape, Lords of Death and Life, Anne Steelyard”

  1. James Schee Says:

    Especially disconcerting about The Cape is that there was a tv show on with that name. So I could see some parent thinking oh that’s a comic for that show little Tommy liked.

  2. Good Comics Out September 7 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] in the World (Abrams, $12.95) and Usagi Yojimbo #140 (Dark Horse, $3.50). Not so recommended are Anne Steelyard’s The Garden of Emptiness Volume 3 (Penny Farthing Press, $14.95) and Butterflies, Flowers Volume 8 (Viz, $9.99), concluding the […]




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