Game Of Thrones is one of those shows and stories where the ebbs and flow of the momentum make for an interesting arc. Take, for instance, the arc of Sansa Stark. Once a meek character, but by show’s end, a fierce ruler whose loyalty to her people, made her formidable. There was one point where she was more hated than loved for her perceived weakness.
What made the story so magnetic is its unmistakable likeness to the flight of the human spirit. As everyone rooted for the Starks, when we saw how despite the misfortune that befell their house, they still rose. Who cannot champion those who are clear-minded and full-hearted? In the fifth issue of Aztec Empire, we find the Maya, at a crossroads, as some of them have surrendered while other factions look to fight.
We are taken to the Palace of Montecuhzoma, where the Council of Four is strategizing how to stop these usurpers and drive them from their land. The Great Speaker, Montecuhzoma II, ruminate with the advice of his generals, their next move, and treat these new strangers as a threat, one that he sees he must be more decisive, he must be accurate. We’re then taken to Potonchon, where the Spanish invaders start to impose the Christian religion and their ravaging of food supplies, one that pushes the natives to the brink. By issue’s end, Cortes looks to plunder Montecuhzoma’s land for gold, not knowing what unknown dangers lay ahead.
Overall, an engaging penultimate episode, one which will have reader rooting to defeat the invaders. The story by Paul Guinan is stirring and emotional. The art by Guinan and David Hahn is beautiful. Altogether, a story that leaves the reader beginning to comprehend the complexities and atrocities of colonization in all its repulsiveness.
Story: Paul Guinan Art: Paul Guinan and David Hahn Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy
When one looks through history, clearly the way stories are told is through the eyes of the victor. The only time where you have completely different views of who won the battle is War Of 1812. This view of history is often skewed by the glamor of victory and less with the blood-filled trails they leave behind. Most of the stories do not include the bloodshed innocent people suffered at the hands of these “noble” men as they are considered to be carrying out “God’s work” against the indigenous peoples who are often referred to as savages.
There’s no better example than the ferocity of Hannibal and the fall of Carthage. His existence serves as one of the most brutal victories that the Roman Empire endured and because of it, Roe wanted to make an example. As the Empire eventually took Carthage and made slaves of the kingdom’s population, serving as a shameful chapter in their history that is shunned because of the far-reaching implications. In the fourth issue of Aztec Empire, we find the people who were protected by the Triple Alliance getting adjusted to colonization.
We are taken to Potonchan, as the negotiation for peace between the Maya and the Spaniards commences. Cortes looks to get the upper hand. With the arrival of King Tabscoob a lack of understanding of each other’s customers leads to hostile talks. Avarice turns to lust and rape as we see the cost of colonialism.
Overall, an engaging installment that gives readers, a rare look that the ugliness of colonization The story by Paul Guinan is enthralling. The art by David Hahn is superb. Altogether, a story that doesn’t hold back on exactly what happened, giving readers a truth, even when its uncomfortable.
Story: Paul Guinan Art: David Hahn Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy
Europe Comics, the pan-European digital venture run by 13 European comics players, is announcing the launch of webtoon platform Webtoon Factory.
Webtoon Factory was initially launched in French in January 2019 by Belgian publisher Dupuis, a Europe Comics founding member. The platform, currently offering more that 20 original webtoon series in French, is now releasing its English version including 16 series already available in English with new episodes released weekly.
Webtoon Factory offers an ‘all you can read’ monthly and yearly subscriptions for 3.99€ and 35.99€ respectively and its app is available on both Android and iOS. Readers can also read on its webapp.
Webtoon Factory’s series range from humor, fantasy, and drama to surreal thrillers, and are the work of creators from around the globe. Bestselling series include adventure quest Noah vs Nature, fantasy tale Bouhland, LGBT erotica Giselle and Beatrice and sci-fi saga Sex Runner.
In 2020 Webtoon Factory plans to release 25 new series (including popular Korean webtoons) and is currently accepting submissions.
When it seems as though one must yield to the better
fighter, most boxers do not relent. You get a boxer in a corner; they try to find
a way out. You get a Mixed Martial Arts Fighter in a grapple; they look to toss
themselves out of it. No matter, the odds, a fighter always finds a way.
It gets a little different when you are in an actual battle. Some of those odds are about survival. Where a fighter for sport knows more than likely he will live to fight another day. A warrior doesn’t know if today will be his last day. In the third issue of Aztec Empire, we find the Triple Alliance at a disadvantage. But, this is their land, one that they rather die on than become slaves to Spain.
We catch up with Tephua, as he strategizes the next move for what’s left of the Aztec warriors, knowing the upcoming meeting with the Spanish invaders, may every well be the chance they need to take back their land. We also find Nacom at the helm of the battle forces, as he uses his Maya forces to overwhelm Orazco’s battalions, a plan that succeeds. Unfortunately, the Spanish has a weapon that Nacom did not foresee.
Overall, a powerful entry that shows that saving lives is more important than winning. The story by Paul Guinan is engrossing. The art by David Hahn is magnificent. Altogether, a story that gives context when history books don’t.
Story: Paul Guinan Art: David Hahn Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy
Fans of Legendary Comics and WEBTOON’s popular digital comic Pacific Rim: Amara can now revisit the action-packed prequel to the blockbuster film Pacific Rim: Uprising in a special print edition featuring expanded artwork on sale now in comic stores and online.
Set between the two franchise films, Pacific Rim: Amara is an origin story that hurls readers straight into a dystopia, post-Kaiju Santa Monica as they follow a courageous young girl named Amara Namani as she attempts to rebuild her life in the wake of tragedy and loss.
This supercharged series was created by co-writers Cavan Scott and Zhang Ran, hailing from the United Kingdom and China respectively, and illustrated by Chinese artist BigN.
As the Kaiju Wars rage on, Pacific Rim: Amara follows the young heroine whose life shattered when she is orphaned during a devastating monster attack. Fighting to survive as her city is destroyed, she finds shelter with a grumpy mech-inventor named Kai and his closest companion, Hannah. The trio forms an unlikely family in the aftermath of the invasion, looking out for one another and scavenging old mech parts to build their very own Jaeger, a pilotable giant robot with the power to protect Amara from the monsters that took everything from her. On a wild adventure through the destroyed landscape of Los Angeles to find the parts she needs to complete her Jaeger Scrapper, Amara becomes caught up in a dangerous and explosive mech-racing league and finds herself in a race against time to be ready for the day the monsters return. This epic prequel to the blockbuster movie Pacific Rim Uprising exclusively reveals the origins of Pacific Rim heroes Amara and Scrapper, as well as reveals the courage that rises when the world falls.
As a fan of historical dramas, one of my favorite shows, though short-lived, was The Borgias. It lasted for three seasons on Showtime and was more than ambitious. The show blended family drama and history in a beautiful way that would give way to later dramas like Game Of Thrones. The historical research done on the show was phenomenal and at times disturbingly true.
The show would get into the behind the scenes drama between the Pope and the enemies he had within the Vatican but also talked about how much the present state of the Vatican owes him. His forward-thinking strengthened the Church’s financial wealth by creating a bank and installing its own security force. What grabbed me about the show is the military genius his sons showed throughout. They were the shadows turning the tables in his favor. In the second issue of Aztec Empire, we find our heroes in the midst of a battle with strange Spanish invaders who are out for blood and revenge.
We find the Aztec warriors battling the Spanish invaders who have reached their shores, as Captain Cortes uses military tactics to gain an advantage in this battle. This is where he unleashes cannons, which has the native combatants off balance and looking to even the odds. As Cortes army has taken the Aztec city, he claims it for King Charles, and for Spain, leaving the Mayan commander defeated in his retreat, knowing the capital has never fell until now. By issue’s end, the Maya commander regroups, adds three more regiments to his battle force and looking to outmaneuver Cortes, as his forces are in disarray.
Overall, an excellent second episode that shows how progress can sometimes outwit the best of us. The story by Paul Guinan is engaging and well developed. The art by David Hahn is beautiful. Altogether, a story that only gets better, showing a complex story where colonization is more than what the history books reveal.
Story: Paul Guinan Art: David Hahn Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy
As Columbus Day just passed, we’re reminded of the atrocities he brought with him. The facts of his exploits have been muddied by a fantasy of America being discovered by a man who wanted to explore the world and then he found America. The truth is America was not found in 1492 but at least 15,000 years prior, when the Clovis peoples crossed. They’re who most indigenous peoples across the Americas were direct descendants of.
A good number of people now call this very holiday, Indigenous Peoples Day. Not only due to Columbus’ atrocities but also for what it led other explorers to do against the native peoples who inhabited these lands, they supposedly discovered. The history of each of these native peoples are rich and immensely powerful. In the debut issue ofAztec Empire, we get the history of one of the world’s most epic kingdoms.
We are taken to 1519 in Tenochtitlan, the hub of Mexica Triple Alliance, and the royal capital, where a messenger is hurrying to the palace to deliver an urgent message. He looks for the Master Of Darts, Tepehua, who is convening a meeting with Motelhuih, Speaker Of Words, and Atlixca, Cutter Of Men, all military commanders of the alliance. The royal messenger delivers the message of the arrival of outsiders looking to gain the trust of the people of Cozumel, news that they wait to deliver to the Great Speaker. We also meet Gonzalo, a man enslaved by the Aztecs for eight years, but has assimilated to Aztec culture, whose brother sent a message to Spain about their enslavement. This leads to an expedition ordered by the governor of Cuba, Diego Velazquez, under the command of Hernando Cortes, Gonzalo Sandoval, and Alonzo Avila, to plunder the land and the free the enslaved Spaniards. We meet King Tabscoob, who readies his people for war against the Spaniards, who looks to convert the Mayan people to Christianity. By the issue’s end, the Alliance jolts their battle against the Spaniards by land and sea.
Overall, an exciting debut issue which both entertains and educates the reader, showing how history is told by more than one point of view. The story by Paul Guinan is exciting and well researched. The art by David Hahn is breathtaking. Altogether, a story that feels contemporary and will also give readers a feel of Allan Quartermain, but from the indigenous perspective.
Story: Paul Guinan Art: David Hahn Story: 10 Art: 9.7 Overall: 9.8 Recommendation: Buy
Sometimes you can’t help but notice that there are similarities between stories. I always find this pretty spectacular because it shows how certain themes and aesthetics can be simultaneously universal and idiosyncratic. Even when they come from separate genres this is true, and those genres themselves could share similarities as well. That is why for this review, I want to talk about not one but two webcomics: Altar of Pine by Cayde and Disorder by Erika Price. One is a historical dark fantasy tale, the other is arthouse horror. One gets its art style from watercolor expressionism and medieval woodcuts, the other is a black and white demon crossbreed between H.R. Giger and heavy metal album covers. And yet, both series are about identity, depression, anxiety, queerness, and a search for a deeper meaning to life beyond struggle.
In a colonial New England town, there lives a poor fisherman by the name of Alexander. He is lonely, doesn’t connect with his community, and is in debt to the miserly Montgomery. Not even Alexander’s only friend Pritchett is much of a friend. Alexander prefers to get lost at sea and not have to think about life, a certain freedom within nothingness. On one of his expeditions, Alexander is capsized and washes ashore on a seemingly abandoned island. Except for the cabin with strange potions…the totems made from skulls…and the spirits within.
Altar of Pine is based on heavy research into history and witchcraft. The latter of which series creator Cayde is a practitioner of. Yes, unlike most cases where your mom is wrong about comics, this particular book will teach you the dark arts. If that is not your jam, I suggest you go read a Chick tract.
The witchcraft hits early when you first go into the comic’s main website and, BAM!, there’s a very polite Satan warning you that there is explicit content in the series. Thanks, Satan!
The coloring in Altar of Pine is done with watercolors. This approach has taken some ground in indie and non-Big Two comics as an alternative to the polished look of digital coloring. For many artists watercolor can give comics a softer, more traditional look. It’s also great for creating surreal and experimental designs. The artists participating in this movement are diverse, from mainstream icon Dustin Nguyen to cult superstar Niina Salmelin.
Cayde’s technique is more subdued than these contemporaries. The first chapter of Altar of Pine focuses heavily upon the sea. The application of blue is grainish and ghostly. It invokes deep feelings of melancholy, the same feeling written all over Alexander’s face.
This approach, using color to reflect the character’s mental state, is used later in a scene of Alexander’s town. The color choice is a yellow to symbolize the concentration of human life that exists within the village. Traditionally, that would invoke feelings of warmth and security. Alexander, however, feels fear, pain, and isolation as Montgomery and his men ransack his home, and no one lifts a finger to defend him. After the confrontation, a three-panel page shows a three-step transition from the yellow of the village to the green of the forest and, finally, the blue of the sea.
In each panel, the colors and the feelings they invoke become more melancholy in nature. Yet Alexander’s emotional state improves as illustrated by this image.
Watercolor becomes increasingly experimental when Alexander arrives on the mysterious island. The application of a singular shade in previous pages is replaced with a cabin scene with multiple colors. Not only does it look like how it would in real life, but there is also a feeling of peace and balance. After applying a suspicious green cream to himself, Alexander enters a realm where everything is cloudy and spooky, an unknown territory where anything could happen. The ultimate purpose of watercolor in Altar of Pine is empathy. The reader is meant to feel the same whirlwind of emotions that Alexander is feeling.
Color also adds to character design. No one in Altar of Pine is a perfectly chiselled superhero or baby-smooth waifu. Nothing against the supes and waifus of the world. Most are middle-aged people with skin issues, gray hairs, and always some kind of belly fat. These characters live in a rough time period and eat some dank-ass food that Gordon Ramsey would need days to spice up. They aren’t exactly going to be in Vogue is what I’m saying.
Aside from looking realistic, the characters drawn in Altar of Pine‘s grimey fashion also better express their emotions. Whatever they feel, it always gets reflected by the watercolor scheme around them. Sometimes it is an intentional effect, other times it’s a natural occurrence that just seems to fit. It is not trying too hard to make a point of being symbolic. Everything is just so naturally in-sync to the tone of the story that it does not need any extra effort.
Grimey melancholy might not sound like the best emotion, but I think it makes sense to the story. Alexander is in a crappy position, and his only relief right now is to be alone. This might be when his depression intensifies, but it also might be helpful in unconventional ways.
I am not a mental health professional, but I do suffer from anxiety and depression. I have for some time now. Because I’m introverted, being around people exacerbates my downward spiral. When I walk alone though, along the streets, by the side of the sea or deep in the forest, I experience relief unlike any other. My mind clears and I regain a sense of purpose. I don’t want to die, I want to live and marvel at the treasures of the world. Ironically enough, loneliness is the key to recovery.
This is just my own interpretation, but I feel Alexander suffers similar episodes of anxiety and depression. It’s symbolized from the time as he escapes town on a boat to washing up on the shore of the island. As he struggles and makes new discoveries, I can’t help but be reminded by the same feelings I go through during those dark times. While Alexander’s return to the town does not conclude with elation, his desire to tell of his journey shows that, ironically, alienation pulls him out of the depths of despair.
That’s as far as I can analyze the story. Partly because I don’t want to give too much away but also we are not that far into it. There are only three completed chapters so far, and Alexander has only begun to discover the mysteries of the island. There isn’t much to analyze or discuss from such an insignificant chunk of story. However, it’s enough to keep me reading, and perhaps for those who enjoy a dark fantasy about healing mixed with wonderful watercolor art.
Where do I even begin talking about this comic? The simple answer is that I can’t because there is so much complexity to it, anything I say will be merely a scratch at the surface. The series’ website describes it as a “series of dark and surreal short horror comics, created as art therapy.” Boy, this must be some therapy because the stuff that goes down in Disorder would make Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Kathe Koje, Junji Ito, David Cronenberg, and honestly any other dark creative drop dead from feelings of inadequacy.
There are no traditional plots in Disorder. It reads like a series of vivid nightmares accompanied by cryptic narrations and surreal images. Each involves an entity of some sort as it endures pain, dread, and a never-ending struggle for self-actualization. The true greatness of the series is how, in both writing and art, it never fails to be simultaneously unique and signature to Price’s ouvre, and touching upon themes that are universal and esoteric.
In Issue #1, the cover displays many key characteristics of the art style: Black and white, heavily detailed lineart, unique patterns, and alien bodies. The story of this particular issue involves ginormous humanoid entities constructed out of cities. Concrete, glass, wires, steel, plaster, skyscrapers, railings, and asphalt twist and bend to shape these behemoths into being. As a result, it causes them great pain, at least that’s what I’m able to deduce. Interestingly, there are onlookers who walk toward the city and become citizens, as though the grotesque terraformation hypnotizes them. The layout for each page consists of large panels, some of them splashes, to fit in as much detail as possible. The effect is a sense of the grand scale of this humanoid city.
The other four chapters have similar stories of humanoids and the pain they experience. While the style remains the same, creator Erika Price varies in themes and execution. In particular, the panel layouts get into some delightful mischief. A good number of them are standard, albeit pushing the boundaries of those standards. Some are straight out trippy, such as in issue #3.
This issue has heavy organic aesthetics to it, many of the life forms consisting of reptilian, amphibian, and fish qualities. Panels are constructed out of shapes resembling air bubbles and cellular patterns. The entire chapter is quite chaotic much like the biosphere it represents, and yet it all makes a visual sense to the cryptic narrative being told.
In every one of the chapters, recurring themes of pain, alienation, and subjugation are presented in fresh ways while maintaining running visual characteristics unique to Erika Price’s style. With just a few short comics, she has already proven to be an auteur in terms of figuring out a brand and ethos. This is something that even the greatest artists in history took up to decades figuring out. Hell, double so in comics where, in the past, editorial mandates and trends held back a lot of highly talented artists. Free in the wild west landscape of webcomics, Price does whatever the hell she likes and distinguishes herself in the process.
As much as I have talked about the universal themes in Disorder, there are esoteric themes at work too. Mental illness is a big one. I get a serious sense of depression and anxiety from the comic; those are illnesses I can relate to, so in a way they are still universal even if Price is presenting them esoterically.
One theme that I think is much more esoteric is bodily dysphoria, a feeling of being trapped inside a body that’s wrong. This might be particularly personal for Price given she is a trans woman. Although I am not transgender myself, so I don’t really know what that experience is like. I don’t want to step in and explain an experience I don’t have, so I will avoid going in any deeper. I will just say I wouldn’t be surprised if gender dysphoria is a theme here. If I did offend in any way, I apologize.
That said, the theme of body dysphoria can encompass more than just gender; after all, the two can relate to each other but are still different categories. Diverse people can experience body dysphoria if they feel like something is fundamentally wrong with their body. I’m going to speak from my own experience as someone who experiences this issue because of my weight. Since I am so preoccupied with it, my other issues of depression and anxiety multiply. I repeatedly feel like I’m trapped inside a gross body full of negative emotions, and it can be suffocating. Erika Price visually captures this feeling perfectly with how the humanoid entities twist and bend and break and mutant in excruciating ways. She has captured with the pure existential id of this state.
Erika Price also captures the pure id of Horror. Now, it might seem presumptuous to attach Disorder to a genre when its storytelling methods defy all traditional notions of narrative, but visually speaking it is pure Horror. Disorder looks horrifying. It is horrifying to read. It perfectly encapsulates everything about the genre and the various forms of media and genres under the tent, from the slimy practical effects of David Cronenberg to the gothic landscapes of black metal. It can’t be denied how Disorder is Horror in its purest essence.
Given how much I’ve described the series, it’s still not enough. Disorder is the most abstract, complex, and challenging comic I have yet read. I’m barely able to comprehend it still given I have only read through the series once. I feel like my analysis is just scratching the surface and that smarter critics could dig deeper and find more layers to thoroughly discuss. Simultaneously, I think I’m underselling this comic by merely trying to describe it. Much like Lifemahcine’s Weaker Sides, this is a comic to read and experience more than to analyze. I hope to go back, reread the comic, and relive the experience of the first go round so that my understanding of this peculiar series increases.
Altar of Pine and Disorder are both unique works of art, radically different in their styles and approaches to storytelling but similarly about mental illness, introspection, and a search for self. There is beauty in these comics’ darkness, one as strange and infinite as the entities of older, darker realms. If you’re looking for dark horror and fantasy stories that will challenge you to explore dangerous worlds and uncomfortable thoughts, then I can’t recommend reading both series enough.
Art: 10 Story: 10 Recommendation: Buy, er well read ’cause these are webcomics
This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Release Barabbas
There’s a chance that you may have heard about Barabbas, especially if you’re familiar with the bible and the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, John and later copies of Luke. If you haven’t heard of him, then Barabbas was the criminal who, along with Jesus of Nazareth, was presented to the crowd by Pontius Pilate whereby the crowd was given the option to save one man and condemn the other to death. We all know how that turned out for one of the men.
But what about the other?
Well that’s where Liam McKenna‘s Release Barabbascomes in. Billed as “an absolutely nonreligious, yet possibly sacrilegious biblical fairy tale” the 57 page comic tells the story of Barabbas’ life on the day his life was spared – a day that also happens to be the same day Jesus was crucified. If you’re already starting to turn away because you’re leery of the religious undertones then don’t worry because despite being set during a pivotal moment in history, biblical or not, there’s actually nothing to do with religion in the comic, because Barabbas himself seems entirely oblivious to it – and this is his story.
Release Barabbas has a colour scheme that feels immediately historical; the reddish peach of the physical comic lends itself a brilliantly sepia-esque tone that serves as a great tool to set the historical nature of the tale right away. Likewise, McKenna’s stylized art lends itself to a physical comedy that’s reminiscent of the Saturday morning cartoons and the sound effects that so often permeate those shows and comics. McKenna’s use of blank space to highlight the loneliness and isolation that Barabbas feels as he navigates his first hours of freedom.
As a story about the death of Jesus without Jesus in it, this is a very enjoyable read about a man unaware of the history unfolding around him – and in many ways that’s a reminder to us all. Just because you’re unaware of the events around you doesn’t mean that they’re not happening. For a comic that seems to be a light hearted tale, there’s a subtle gut punch there – and that’s why this is an Underrated book (and the fact you’ve probably never heard of it).
The comic is available in part here or on Gumroad here in a pay-what-you-want model. If you want to hear more on the comic, there’s an episode of Those Two Geeks you can listen to here. I purchased a physical copy directly from the author a couple of months ago for around $17, and it was worth every penny.
Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.
BOOM! Studios is teaming up with Tapas Media to bring bit-sized stories to you. Together, BOOM! Studios and Tapas will create a unique print and digital partnership around one of BOOM! Studios’ most popular original series,Heavy Vinyl.
Heavy Vinyl: Riot on the Radio, written by Carly Usdin and with art by Nina Vakueva, was originally published in print by BOOM! Studios in 2017 and amassed a global following. With this partnership, Tapas Media is teaming up with BOOM! to adapt Heavy Vinyl to a scrolling, mobile-friendly experience. Tapas will publish the mobile formatted version of Heavy Vinyl and introduce the series to a digital-native audience. Heavy Vinyl: Riot on the Radio will be available via Tapas through their website and mobile apps available for both iOS and Android, and Tapas Media will debut the new Heavy Vinyl original graphic novel exclusively on their digital platform prior to its physical release.
Tapas Media is a leader in webcomics with 50,000 creators from all over the world and 60,000 original titles published to date. They’ve published one million unique episodes and over 4 billion views.