Monday, December 26, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #26: Fantology Volume 3

Kristen Shull and Emily Zea have produced another winning edition of Fantology, with probably the strongest issue from top to bottom. Its central conceit is that the artists have to work within an established world delineated by a map, which of course is similar to but not as rigidly prescribed as the fantasy minicomic series Cartozia Tales. The theme for this issue is "treasure," and that's a solid basis for stories because it instantly gives protagonists something to want.  

Kat Ghastly's "Lore" kicks things off, and their inventive layouts and page composition make this piece truly stand out. It's as much horror as it is fantasy, as it details a deadly prophecy concerning the new sorceress of the kingdom. Ghastly uses open page layouts, zooms in and out on key characters, uses tiny details to provide narrative and decorative flourishes, and provides rich and provocative characterization. This feels like a long book in the offing. Tay James' work is text-heavy, but the weird lettering choices and bonkers page design help with the light-hearted humor of the piece. Sage Clemmons' entry alternating illustrations with hand-written letters detailing a couple separated by life circumstances is deeply emotional, and ideal for an anthology. Natalie Norris' wordless tale of two mermaid lovers discovering a trove of human treasure is the emotional and narrative opposite: two lovers with no regard to the outside world, inseparable. The treasure amounts to simple baubles for them, instead of life-or-death plunder, and if there's one thing Norris is aces at drawing, it's slender, elegant, beautiful women. 

Emily Claire's piece about disaffected undead employees in a dungeon is funny and has a sharp punchline, although the dependence on grayscale shading made the visuals bland. A pet is a major aid in that story and in Chelsi Fiore's entry about an elf and his small steed being trapped in an underground city. These are breezy transition pieces that lead to the third chapter of Shull's ongoing fantasy story about two accidental traveling companions who both carry secrets. Shull's boisterous and bawdy style of fantasy is propulsively fun, as she pairs a serious (but horny) character with a light-hearted (but also horny) character who loves carousing, singing, dancing, and playing games of chance. Shull has a way of adding a slice-of-life touch to fantasy proceedings that centers the story around her protagonists, and both of them are memorable--both in terms of how they're drawn and their personalities. Hopefully, this makes it into a book one day. 

Michael Beachy's treasure-hunter story is a little visually overwrought, but he reins it in just enough to tell a clear and funny story. Mona's story about a bored wizard staging a tournament because he loves violence is heavy on pen-and-ink pyrotechnics, but her command over her line and clever storytelling techniques makes this fun, right on down to its cut-off ending. I get that it's part of a larger story, but not having any real closure in the story was distracting. The scratchiness of that story is followed by Stephen Pellnat's painstaking detail in service of some dynamic storytelling about a cat adventurer getting more than he bargained for on his adventure, and learning a valuable lesson along the way. There's another stylistic shift, to a sketchy, hatching-heavy story by Jackson Maceo Schleicher about a lack of honor among thieves as they look for a wishing egg. 

Rainer Kannenstine's piece is yet another visual shift, as it looks like scratchout white-on-black, with a simple, blocky line to tell this story of a grappler named Urta whose use of brute force eliminates the need for skill or magic in taking a dragon's treasure. She also has no problem declaring herself the sole recipient of the treasure and turns the dragon into her pet. My vote for most improved feature is Alex Washburn's newest entry about Clan Zargs. These ragtag adventurers get into genuine trouble, and Washburn tightens up everything here: his line, the storytelling, and even the characterizations. On the other hand, co-editor Zea's piece about a pirate challenging her family's lineage with the help of her hostage/protege/niece feels overblown and self-indulgent. She seems so delighted in her Captain Trub character that everyone else in the story is a means to the end of extolling her awesomeness. The story is still well-drawn, although the use of digital lettering takes me out of the actual story. 

While that story was a misfire, Fantology 3 not only holds up well on a story-to-story basis, the sequencing is also fluid and creates contrasts that make each story stronger. For an anthology with an open submissions policy, they did a remarkable job of putting together such a strong group of creators. It helps that there are regulars to anchor it, but this was the best all-around group to be featured in an issue so far. The conceit of Bartlebee the Bard introducing each chapter is fun, but it seems wholly unnecessary for one-shots. Given that some strips are in their third chapter, a summary of prior chapters would have been useful for readers. This volume will definitely delight readers looking for something a bit off-beat in their fantasy comics. 

No comments:

Post a Comment