9 Jun 2017

Pipedream Indie Round-Up - May 2017

Better late than never, here's the next edition of our ongoing team-up with Pipedream Comics.

KNOCK OFF WARS
Writer: Luke Toywalker
Art: Lucasz Kowalczuk

Alex T: Inspired by Luke Toywalker's Underworld Muscle blog about mashup action figures, Knock Off Wars sees a group of intrepid heroes set off on a mission to find the mysterious Monster Castle, home to all the secrets of the world of Vulkanair. The quest is lead by Primor of the Turley clan (a violent green reptile, with a red eye mask who looks strangely familiar) and he is joined along the way by heroes named Trolldolf and Killasaur who he meets in a series of blood-soaked battles and are keen to share in his adventure. At its core, Knock Off Wars is a pretty straightforward quest tale, more in the vein of Conan than He-Man (especially when you factor in the limb chopping violence!) and as such the dialogue is pretty shouty and the characters are paper thin. But that's kind of the point! It's not meant to be a subtle character piece looking at the human condition, it's a showcase for the weird imaginations of Kowalczuk and Toywalker! And what an imagination these two have! They have created this unique world that their equally weird characters can populate and along the way produced a crazy, fun, violent and utterly original comic! Sure, the characters are all reminiscent of those Saturday morning heroes like the Masters Of The Universe and Thundercats, but importantly they aren't direct copies or homages, instead they capture the spirit of those characters without copying them directly. This manages to not only make it feel fresh and unique, but also keeps those pesky lawyers from the door too! Kowalczuk's art is perfect for this book, his kinetic visuals and eye popping colours creating this perfect hybrid of underground comix anarchy mixed with neon '80s excess. The pages are all designed as splashes, and are divided up with lightning bolts and treelines for the edges of panels, rather than with a rigid border, which helps maintain the chaotic, sugar-soaked energy you need for a book like this. Each chapter is also introduced by a reminder of its Saturday morning cartoon roots with an intro page featuring a mysterious 'viewer' watching the adventures on TV surrounded by various '80s and '90s ephemera (from classic games consoles to movie posters, VHS tapes and all manner of other nostalgic Easter eggs). We've been a big fan of Lucasz's work ever since we discovered Vreckless Vrestlers and Slime, but this may just be his best work yet! 8/10

POPOVA #1
Writer: Dre Torres & Alex Valdes
Art: Yasmin Liang

James B: Popova tells the story of Leila, a young woman living a happy life in a city apartment with fiance, Mark. However, what her fiance doesn’t know is that Leila hasn’t always been Leila, but Scarlet Rose, an assassin who once killed in the name of female equality but now, after faking her death, kills only to put money on the table. However, Leila/Scarlet soon finds that death is not the most foolproof way of leaving her past behind her when, upon returning home from a job, she finds an old ally in her home with only one demand: to return to her old life and speak with her old boss, ‘the Madame'. Dre Torres and Alex Valdes have crafted an incredible, truly compelling story with Popova, built around a very thought provoking concept and an important issue far too often seen in real life. However, while the idea is a good one, it’s the execution which allows this issue to really shine. Torres and Valdes have built a plot which feels near flawless, with the story narrated in the first person by the lead and actually sounding like the character in question. In fact, the book’s real strength is that while introducing a half dozen characters, and despite their individual limited panel time, each one seems to have been imbued with incredibly distinct personalities. Of course, this isn’t its only strength because, along with strong characterisation, the story moves at such a balanced pace and you don’t know what to expect, and some twists, such as the opener in the restaurant, really come out of left field to surprise you. This story is a well executed piece of fiction, save for the police station scene which feels a little like filler. However, because it connects to the rest of an otherwise perfect tale, it’s easy to forgive and ignore. But this isn’t what makes Popova really special because where the issue really shines is the art which Yasmin Liang implements almost pitch perfectly on every page. Starting with the opening two-page title spread which looks gorgeous, Liang moves from page to page utilizing the monochrome scheme to an amazing effect, especially with the darker panels which really sell the thriller aspects of the plot where needed, like when entering the apartment. The real selling point of this artwork though is the facial features of the characters as they are incredibly detailed with every ounce of fear, concern and anger coming across to the reader brilliantly. Overall, Liang’s work is phenomenal, with it easily being compared to Walking Dead’s Charlie Adlard while the style itself is easily Babs Tarr crossed with Nicola Young, making the reading of Popova a genuine pleasure. And then of course there is the cover logo, which tells you everything you need to know about this comic in one word. Special mention has to go to Clare Corfield Carr for this because, while there have been many great cover titles in comics, this one really looks like something special. All in all Popova is an incredible comic which is both terrifically written and amazingly drawn. With the absolute bare minimum of faults, Popova is a work of art in every sense of the word and deserving of high praise and large readership. After reading issue one, a second installment cannot come soon enough. 8/10

BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #1
Writer: Ryan K Lindsay
Art: Sami Kivela & Triona Farell

Alex T: From the opening blood-soaked page which sees hit woman Lon getting life advice from her most recent victim (who has a particularly large bullet hole in his head), you know you are in for a bloody, violent and gritty crime tale with Beautiful Canvas, courtesy of the team behind Deer Editor and Chum, and it definitely doesn't disappoint! After broadening his range with all-ages adventures EIR and recent Kickstarter offering Ink Island, writer Ryan K Lindsay is back in super gritty crime territory with Beautiful Canvas. The story sees female assassin Lon pick up a new junior sidekick after a hit on a particularly nasty target. It's a fairly familiar tale on the surface, but it is the action on the sidelines which makes this story work so well. Whether it's Lon's relationship with her partner, the particularly gruesome woman who sent her on the mission in the first place, or the eclectic team of super mercs sent to track her down, it fleshes out what could otherwise be a fairly trad tale and gives the whole story a really interesting and compelling diversity that makes you want to carry on reading (plus it's great to see women leading the way and being as tough and dastardly and damaged as the men!) There are shades of Greg Rucka's Lazarus in the way it focuses on a kick ass female character, and blends crime and sci-fi without diluting either element. And as is always the case with Lindsay's crime work, the shadow of Ed Brubaker runs long, but not in the sense that he is copying his or Rucka's style, rather that his approach to crime comic storytelling is fast approaching the level of those two and deserves to be regarded in a similar breath. There's also hints of Mark Millar's Wanted with the super villain contingent being seamlessly integrated into the story. And there's nothing about that combination which is bad in our books! Lindsay is helped out on his upward trajectory by long time collaborator Sami Kivela. After the slightly underwhelming work on Chum, this is career best work from Kivela who has all the personality of Sean Philips and the detail of Michael Lark to create this perfect look for Lindsay's world. He even manages to perfectly manage the introduction of a group of super villain mutant mercs halfway through, which in the hands of a lesser artists would have looked completely out of place. We always knew Sami had the chops in terms of linework (just revisit Deer Editor if you don't believe us) but his work is taken to a new level by colourist Triona Farrell whose use of pinks and blues gives the whole thing a neon quality to it that makes it stand out from the crowd, and reminds us a lot of Casper Wjingaards work on the criminally underrated Limbo. If you've been a fan of Lindsay and Kivela for any time then you know they have been on the cusp of greatness for a while now and this more than delivers. However, if this is your first exposure to them then you will not regret it, as Beautiful Canvas is crime comics perfection! 9/10

THE WAR FOR KALEB
Writer: Jason Pittman
Art: Jason Pittman

James B: For all the big, loud and epic events which are portrayed within their pages, comics continue to be a good way to ‘peek behind the curtain’ and see other aspects of real life. One aspect which is rarely shown convincingly, no matter how much the noble intentions, is issues concerning mental health. However, The War for Kaleb may manage just that as it attempts to give an insight in anxiety disorder. It tells the story of a normal guy living a regular life, but for this young man, a regular life is not an easy thing to come by as our hero Kaleb suffers from anxiety and requires medication in order to cope. That gets a little easier when he meets Addison and, after six months together, Kaleb believes he has fallen in love. But is this love real or the result of the pills he takes controlling his life? This is something Kaleb decides to figure out, with the superhero and villain of his mind battling in the background to see who will emerge victorious. Writer/artist Jason Pittman has created a truly fantastic comic which manages to effectively portray both the life and the inner turmoil of someone suffering from a mental health disorder. Kaleb’s story is incredibly effective and makes for compelling reading, with heartstrings being pulled during even the most mundane of scenes, such as him speaking with a friend or confronting an arrogant stranger. Kaleb himself is really well written and comes across as a humble and genuinely nice guy, so the trials he goes through feel completely relatable, but especially to those who have been in his situation. As for the art, Pittman pours just as much heart into the panels as he does the writing. The style is truly beautiful and every panel is incredibly detailed. While the pencils are not perfect and are a little rough, it somehow makes the book look better and more real, thereby making any flaws and blemishes unimportant in the grand scheme of things. The monochrome colour scheme is inspired as it suggests the coldness and isolation of Kaleb’s world behind his medicated prison and contrasts brilliantly with the colourful characters that are Kaleb’s heroic and villainous ‘alternate personalities’. Although these costumed characters may feel a little superfluous, compared to the more serious tone of the narrative, their presence gives the story a relatable core idea for comic book readers to latch onto, and also allows for some fantastic visual metaphors – especially during a climactic fight scene which really clarifies Kaleb’s inner anguish into something really significant. All in all, The War for Kaleb is a truly incredible title and Pittman has created something which offers one of the best comics about anxiety that we have seen since Worry Wart. It should be an essential read for anyone wishing to know more on the subject or even wishing to read something truly relatable. 8/10

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