Monday, December 17, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #17: Jess Johnson, Angela Boyle

The Odds Are Good Vol. 1 and Ragna Rock, by Jess Johnson. Johnson has a fun, propulsive and high-energy style that moves her comics along at an agreeable clip, no matter what the genre. All of this is aided by a strong sense of comedic timing. The first issue of The Odds Are Good is a romance comic, or rather the beginning of a "very long story of a very strange date". The protagonist, Daisy, is asked out on a date by someone she considers to be a friend, not a potential sexual partner, and she "bluescreens" and says yes. When she learns that he's been into her for years, she's horrified. Johnson takes that awkwardness and runs with it, incorporating all sorts of pop culture references and a wide array of visual tricks that heighten and comment on the situation on hand. For example, she uses Pokemon captions to narrate Henry running across her in the kitchen, as "Wild HENRY appeared!" that eventually results in a brain meltdown where she starts babbling about a mutual show they liked--which she feels leads him on even further. Johnson's art is informed by a number of different influences, including manga and a variety of different webcomics series, but she's not defined by any of them in particular. Instead, what's clear is that she's a skilled storyteller who packs a lot of images into each page and panel without losing clarity.

Ragna Rock is a post-apocalyptic comic that offers little in the way of backstory and doesn't need it. Instead, the reader is slowly fed information about its four female protagonists and their mission--delivering a "package" to a certain location as they navigate alien invader-infested areas. This is a comic defined not just by character, but by relationships, as Johnson extensively flexes perhaps her best skill--creating witty dialogue in the form of banter. There are plenty of well-designed action set pieces that mix in well with said banter, which only enhances the action. The big reveal at the end of the story ("the package") was clever and fit in with the "never say die" ethos of the characters. Overall, there's a fluidity to Johnson's story telling that makes it a great fit for serialized and extended storylines.

Artema The Exile #1 by Rachel Cholst and Angela Boyle. Boyle was an interesting choice to illustrate a genre fantasy story, but it works because of her background in doing stories about nature. The comic starts at the end, where an elderly version of the titular character is standing before her (unstated) goal, then it flips back to her childhood. She's part of a people called the Komai'i, who live in a sustaining land  called Chema'i. The story begins when Artema receives her name from the land as a child, and continues through her training as a warrior. This is in contrast to her mother, who is a healer. There are two key moments in the story: first, when Artema falters in her first combat and gets injured; and second, when a humiliated Artema takes revenge and slaughters a tent full of her enemies unawares. The latter went against her people's beliefs, hence the "exile" part of the title.

This issue was mostly just premise-setting and world-building. However, Cholst and Boyle also do a lot of nice character work with Artema. She's an iconoclast who's quick to anger. She finds it hard to accept her people's law that they can never strike first or fight in anger. She beats up a guy who says women are inferior warriors. Boyle gives her great backgrounds to work against: craggy mountains, gloomy caves, and vast deserts. Her character work is a little stiff at times in terms of showing figures moving and interacting with others in space. However, she has a nice sense of the dramatic when it comes time to the battle scenes, with several striking poses that set the tone for what was at stake. I don't have a real sense of where the story's going yet, but I'm guessing Cholst will continue to test Artema's violent nature against the beliefs she was taught.

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