The ambitious new minicomics series Cartozia Tales is a natural extension of the sort of thing that masterminds Isaac Cates and Mike Wenthe were doing toward the end of their run on their collaborative minicomic Satisfactory Comics. That duo loved the idea of exploring maps and territories as a way of generating stories and then handing off stories in that territory to new collaborators; their Mapjam comic is essentially the forerunner of Cartozia Tales.Of course, that comic stalled for any number of reasons, including the fact that a multi-creator collaborative anthlogy is incredibly hard work. That's why Cates has a kickstarter going on this comic: to get the eight regular artists and two rotating guest artists a decent enough page rate to make this project worth their time. At the moment, it's about 40% funded but has a long way to go. Please consider funding it if you find my review to be of interest.
This is an all-ages fantasy comic wherein each creator is assigned a quadrant of the map of the known world and writes a story involving a place in their quadrant. Each issue, the quadrant assignment will change. Characters designed by one artist will be used by another, creating a true collaborative environment across the board. The regular rotation of artists includes Sarah Becan, Lucy Bellwood, Cates & Wenthe (who collaborate on all their work), Shawn Cheng, Lupi McGinty, Tom Motley and Jen Vaughn. Of this group, I was only unfamiliar with McGinty and Bellwood prior to reading the comic. Cheng seems especially well-suited to this kind of endeavor, adding a pleasingly precise but gritty quality to the series. His story, "Master Cyrus and the Boy: Journey to Owl Rock", was one of my favorites in the issue. This is a simple quest comic, wherein a master magician and his apprentice make a journey to a remote location to perform a mysterious ceremony. The way Cheng arranges his unusually-designed characters on the page and the manner with which he uses varying shades of grey on the page gives the story depth and texture.
The guest artists in this issue, Jon Lewis and Dylan Horrocks, do not disappoint. Both have dipped into fantasy work in the past, and both feel quite at home here. Lewis uses a trembling line to tell a story about a boy's kindness gaining him a special reward. Horrocks' story is about a young girl happening upon a mechanical man who needs to be wound up, as she's on her way to get special wisdom from a magical fish. Horrocks' use of blacks is as lovely as ever, and the simplicity of his figures adds so much to this tale of developing friendship. Simply the way Horrocks draws a night sky or a hillside covered with flowers is poetic and elegant; few artists use negative space as well as he does.
Bellwood and McGinty's comics are the cleanest-looking in terms of the line and character design. I thought Tom Motley's comic, by comparison, was harder to follow; his work stuck out and lacked the clarity of the rest of the contributors. We'll see if his style matches up better in future issues, but his story added a discordant tone to a book that was otherwise quite harmonious in style despite the large number of contributors and complexity of the set-up. Becan and Vaughn obviously really worked hard on their stories, as their art has never looked sharper. Becan's story was also the most clever in the book, giving it a fairy tale flavor that I enjoyed. Cates and Wenthe's story was surprisingly downbeat, revealing that while the book is all-ages and won't have graphic content, not every character necessarily gets a happy ending. These stories are smart, well-drawn and avoid the kind of cliches that plague other fantasy comics that I've read.