Saturday, December 26, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #26: Fantology

Every year, someone from CCS always seems to step up to do the work of editing and publishing an anthology. It's a time-tradition that has produced some excellent comics, including Sundays, Irene, Maple Key Comics, and most recently Brainworm. This time around, it's Fantology Volume 1: Origins, edited by Kristen Shull and Emily Zea. It's a straight-up fantasy anthology that makes no apologies for its subject matter and celebrates it with gusto. Not everyone in the book is a CCS student or grad, so for the purposes of this review, I will mostly focus on the CCS contingent.

While there are some solid entries in this anthology, the care that editors Shull and Zea put into make it greater than the sum of its parts. From Tess Scilipoti's simple but eye-catching cover design to the interstitial rhymes of Bartlebee the Bard to the choice of paper stock, this is a cohesive-looking and attractive book. Shull and Zea also chose to put these stories in a shared world (similar to what Isaac Cates did in Cartozia Tales), with a map at the beginning giving readers a rough understanding of that world and where the stories take place. It's a clever device that helps draw together a number of disparate styles and as well as skill levels.

Catalina Rufin's "The Quest" is one of the highlights of the anthology. Rufin went all-in on a thick line weight and spotting blacks and it works well with her relatively simple but expressive character design. It's an interesting contrast, because fantasy art with this kind of line usually tends to be more naturalistic and dramatic, but with the story's actual emotional narrative arc, that contrast between dramatic and pared-down made sense. The story follows a warrior and a young apprentice magician sidekick, and his supposed quest against a powerful witch. Rufin touchingly and hilariously subverts this trope in a way that still makes sense within the genre but also makes fun of warrior-types who can't express their feelings.

Filipa Estrela's "Discovery" is another delightful, warm story about a goblin who happens upon an island inhabited by mushroom people called Mycelia. Estrela cleverly sets the entire paradigm of an explorer on its ear, as Frond the Goblin realizes that she can't report her discovery of the island to anyone, lest it be despoiled by invaders. There's a delightful romance between Frond and Frill, the Mycelium who greets her on the island, and it leaves off on a note that implies that there could be future stories featuring this couple. The one problem with this story is that Estrela's line is light to the point of illegibility at times; it looks more like detailed thumbnails rather than a completed story. The story is also highly text-heavy, and there's some awkwardness with word-balloon placement. This was also a story that fairly cried out for color to add some weight to its pages, but the anthology was of course in black and white. 

I reviewed Alexander Washburn's "Clan Zargs" last year, as he submitted it as a separate feature. It's a nice fit in the anthology, as his anthropomorphic animal character design, thick line weight, and use of negative space allow the pages to breathe while he tells his silly and funny story about a newly-formed group of treasure hunters. I also reviewed Shull's "Thirsty" in her entry this year for CCS, and it perfectly encapsulated the best of fantasy fiction. It's not just telling a fantastical story, but introducing characters who are trying to tell their own story and create their own identity. 

Rainer Kannenstine's "The Apotheosis Of Jahk" is a well-realized story of a fisherman and a malevolent being named Titanis who at first offers friendship and wisdom to Jahk and those around him, but later inspires bloodlust and conquest. It's a story of a seemingly impossible moral problem and how Jahk failed it. Kannenstine's bold use of black and white contrasts matches his simple line nicely; it's a good example of creating a powerful set of images without overrendering.

Zea closed the anthology with "Seas The Day," a delightful coming-of-age fantasy story about a young princess who wants to be a warrior like her older brothers and the pirate who raids their city. Zea's sketchy pencil drawings and spare but powerful inking make each drawing pop off the page without losing any of their expressive power. 

Natalie Wardlaw and L.S. Hook both contributed short pieces. Wardlaw's was a silent story about finding a fairy with torn wings and mending them. It's simple, sweet, and drawn in Wardlaw's signature elegant line. Hook's contribution isn't so much a comic as it is a series of hunky drawings of men on an island that so enchanted the explorer that they chose to remain there. Both are the kind of short, intermediary pieces that provide flavor in anthologies like this. Amy Burns' "When The Gods Grew Bored" is a powerful creation myth for a particular group of people that's well designed and cartooned. Burns' attempt at a naturalistic approach didn't quite land because her character design was too crude; her lettering was also all over the place, which was distracting. 

Other interesting contributions included Jared Beerman's highly atmospheric fumetti photos of miniatures telling a story, Eliot Crow and Keren Katz's haunting story of a people turned into currency in the desert and what ultimately happens to them; Emily Bradfield's story of an official trying to thwart poachers and its surprising outcome; and Tay James' funny story of a young potion-maker trying to decide her future. 

Another volume of this anthology has been produced, and I'll be curious to see what kind of a jump the dedicated creators, as well as the editors, made. The second volume of an anthology tends to be the one where the editors figure out how to fix the errors they made in the first volume, so I'm eager to see what kind of leap they all make. 

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