Cold Cut Distribution's Feature Spotlight #10 - October 1995


Starchild

Publisher:	Coppervale Press (formerly Taliesin)
Story & Art:	James Owen
Cvr Price:	$2.50 
Frequency:	bi-monthly, sometimes
 [ panels from Starchild ]

Storyline:

Once upon a time, a weaver named Ezekiel Higgins came to a country village named Raveloe, there to build a mill. Settling near the forest, he encountered a dream in that wood - a dream which led him to abandon his mill and build a wall around the trees: a wall of unliving stone, sealed with a gate of cold iron and locked by a single key - a key he bequeathed to his infant sons as he gave them into a neighbor's care and vanished from mortal ken.

But it will soon be time for another Gatherum, a mystical gathering of storytellers who remake the world in their tales. The holder of the Mantle at the Gatherum has great power over How Things Are and How They Will Be, but the Mantle has gone missing - for Ezekiel Higgins was its last bearer.

Writing Review:

James writes a thick narrative, full of deep plots and dark emotions, sad secrets and powerful promises. It is a heady mead, but can be slow going sometimes. Paul Chadwick's introduction to the Trade Paperback provides an invaluable service in diagramming the Higgins family tree - the story traces three generations of Higgins and others, and it can be confusing to follow the storyline as it leaps back and forth in time and viewpoint.

But James has a nice handle on sidebars - comic relief in the tradition of Cerebus, as characters pop up to simply be short side-roads and parodies of other characters (like Dave Sim's "roach" characters). The best of these is Little Neil, a seemingly-permanent denizen of the tavern in Raveloe, who bears a striking resemblance to a certain author of deep, dark and mysterious tales, and is given to portentous bodings and colorful background. But many references, both character pastiches and dialogue, provide tickles to fans of lots of other fantasy comics.

Art Review:

Although you can detect some changes in the art style over the first 12 issues, by and large James' work has remained consistently well-crafted. The linework of varying thicknesses, use of shadows and flora, all add a heft to his work that is undeniably powerful.

Audience:

Starchild is a surefire seller to lovers of fantasy, especially dark fantasy. Fans of Sandman, Cerebus, and Books of Magic are the obvious tie-ins, but also head for the readers of Poison Elves, Bone, Animal Mystic, and Replacement God. Good "starting" or sample issues include #0 and #1, but for those who want to read the whole story, try the TPB - finding individual back issues is very difficult. Even we don't have all of them.

If you like Starchild, take a look at:


Instant Piano

Publisher:	Dark Horse Comics 	
Story & Art:	Mark Badger, Kyle Baker, Robbie Busch,
		Stephen DeStefano and Evan Dorkin
Cover Price:	$3.95
Frequency:	Now defunct

Storyline:

Storyline? Well, there's this guy who takes this girl out on a date and they go to a diner and get to talking and... no. No, that's not right. Ummm... storyline? Welll.... see... it doesn't really have one. Sorry.

Writing Review:

Get five of the best alternative funky-funny cartoonists alive today and put them in the same room, and whaddya get? A fistfight and a few rounds of beers. But put them in the same anthology and you get a wacky, satirical, sharp-edged, rapid-fire book full of cutting barbs and short pieces and takes on everybody and everything. If you're selling Milk & Cheese or Johnny the Homicidal Maniac or Dork, it is inconceivable that you aren't selling Instant Piano. You probably already knew that.

But not enough people already knew that. IP died after only four issues due to slumping sales, which is silly. We're still selling IP as strongly as ever, mainly to stores ordering Milk & Cheese at the same time.

The hilarious humor and satire, running from fake ads to short three-panel strips, to letter pages done up as old newspapers, to "activities pages" where you connect the dots. Gross obvious slapstick, bare naked humor, riffs on fanboys and concert goers, it's all here, and all as timeless as any rippingly vicious humor.

Art Review:

From Busch and Dorkin's angular, sharp, thick style, to DeStefano's flowing blacks, from Badger's fiddly bits and washes to Baker's freeze-frames and animation-cuts, this book is remarkably similar in tone while varying across the board in art styles. No superhero-style bulge here, but a lot of clean, crisp cartooning, done in the tradition of the masters.

A lot of experimentation goes on in these pages, but it's all fascinating to look at - which is kinda the point, really. Trial balloons include computer shading and rendering, faded photos, big bold dingbats, and more.

Sales Overview:

The obvious sure-fire audience for this book is fans of Milk & Cheese (Heck, the Dairy Duo even appear occasionally within the confines of the Piano) and Dork, who will love Evan Dorkin's continued spit-takes on Americana and human nature. Not to mention the fact that this book will turn on a lot of Dorkin fans to Kyle Baker's voluminous portfolio of work, and Robbie Busch's intriguing style. Perhaps even to the eclectic tastes of Stephen DeStefano and Mark Badger - hey, you'd be surprised.

Try this out with fans of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac for the biting sarcasm, with fans of Lethargic Comics for the great parody and topical subjects, with fans of Slacker and No Hope for topical black humor and vaguely-slice-of-life sitcoms.
WARNING: This book contains occasional full frontal nudity - though used for comedic purposes, this should not be sold to minors.

If you like Instant Piano, take a look at:


Replacement God

Publisher:	Amaze Ink (Slave Labor Graphics) 
Story & Art:	Zander Cannon
Cover Price:	$2.95
Frequency:	Quarterly

Storyline:

OK - so you're a perpetual prisoner of a powerful king. Naturally, you try to escape. Just like this young kid does. Over and over and over. When attempt number 346 fails, though, he gets thrown in the the dank dark dungeon, in chains, only to find he's keeping company with a young girl.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, the king chooses that moment to celebrate a victory by releasing the kid, which is great for the kid. But maybe not so great for the king. After all, the kid is destined to become the Replacement God, overthrowing the king himself and taking his place as King of the Dead.

Ooops...

Writing Review:

Hee-hee! Replacement God is a wonderful little fantasy tickler, full of great scenes and lines ("I'm on the crow here...") and pacing which would make Douglas Adams proud. Light, funny fantasy - the sort of thing you might imagine Phil Foglio would do, if he had a serious fantasy story to tell - we've got all the ingredients for a classic fairy tale full of adventure and drama, sorrow and humor, treasure and loss, but along the way we get treated to some lively little sight gags and verbal jokes, humorous situations and wild action.

Now, if only the darn book was more frequent than quarterly...

Art Review:

Zander's been around for a couple of years in the industry (not too many years, though), doing the Chainsaw Vigilante miniseries for NEC and a few other pieces. But Replacement God feels like his first "personal piece", the sort of story he's put a lot of life into to watch it flower. Still, his art shows that he's got the basics downpat and his use of blacks and shading shows a grasp of contrast you wouldn't expect in someone so new - Zander's got the knack.

Meanwhile, the visual jokes are some of the best things about the book - he pulls off lovely bits like the young boy's "speculation" about what's in his cell (see the art to the left) and his further thoughts about who he's talking to, and the use of circles and circular panels in the second issue is really, really... neat. What more can I say?

Sales Overview:

Replacement God is another long-term long-shelf-life book, like Bone or Strangers in Paradise. You'll want to keep the last few issues of this on the shelf, and with it only coming out quarterly, you can have a year's worth on the shelf with only four facings.

RG was a bona fide hit for Amaze Ink, kicking off Slave Labor's new "general audiences" line (less "alternativish", more "independent"). So much so that they've sold out of the first printing of number 1 and are doing a second print for release in December, along with issue 3.

Sell RG to your readers of Bone, A Distant Soil, Buck Godot and Thieves & Kings (especially Thieves & Kings). Readers of Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" books will love RG, as will lovers of other light fantasy books (Piers Anthony, Esther Friesner, etc).

If you like Replacement God, take a look at:


Under Terra

Publisher:	Predawn Publications	
Story & Art:	Jason Williams
Cover Price:	$2.45
Frequency:	Occasional

Storyline:

The year: 1998 or thereabouts.
The location: a two-masted sailing ship in the seas off Greenland.
The crew: a bunch of incorrigible teenage criminals, given a choice between a work gang and this new "experimental" work release - work, live, and cooperate together for a couple months alone onboard a sailing schooner, then freedom when they return. Unfortunately, they find themselves caught in a dilly of a storm which topples both masts and leaves them adrift somewhere near a coast with no civilization in sight, as they find the current dragging them inexorably into a steeply-chanelled fjord.

After the ship runs aground inside the fjord, the group begins exploring, attempting to find something to help them stay alive until a rescue party finds them. But what they find they never expected - an underground cave filled with plants, odd wildlife, and even... dinosaurs?!? Can they survive?

Writing Review:

This book is fascinating - sharp, edge-of-the-tongue writing with characters who are hard-headed and not particularly social in the first place. The dialogue is realistic for a bunch of teenage hooligans, and the actions and reactions are really well done. Once you've suspended the disbelief necessary for the basic "Land of the Lost" storyline, the writing really takes off - no further disbelief necessary.

When one of the guys stands dumbstruck at the sight of a dinosaur and can't bring himself to move, the dinosaur promptly reaches down and nibbles at him before being scared off - but that nibble has taken off the boy's hand, and he dies a few minutes later as his blood pours out his arm. How many other books would take out a character by having him be nibbled by a dinosaur? This isn't a knock - this anti-climax has the ring of realism about it, as does the group's refusal to get along. No goody-let's-all-team-up stuff here. There's the subgroup who doesn't understand the gravity of the situation, those who are disgusted with the first group, and so on. Great interaction.

Art Review:

The linework and shading is fairly interesting and detailed throughout. But Jason's people look odd and ape-like, somewhat crude and out-of-proportion. His backgrounds are fairly strong, and his reference for the ship and other inanimate objects holds up. He's got a few innovative tricks, including having word balloons partially obscured by objects when the speakers are "in the background" (I really like that one). Overall, though, the art comes off as somewhat amateurish due to the rendering of people, and will probably discourage art-fans.

Sales Overview:

Under Terra is a story-lover's book - the art may turn off those who read for the pictures, but those who can brave the crudities to get to a meaty story will find this an intriguing (and well-priced) morsel. Those who liked the early issues of Malibu's Freex should take a look at that same "bad kids" interaction here. Dinosaur fans may want to see a "kids meet dinos" book, and anyone who likes tales of "modern man surviving in the wilderness" (Lord of the Flies, Robinson Crusoe, etc) will get a kick out of it as well.

If you like Under Terra, take a look at:


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