Adults, teens; some nudity, mild gore
Fifteen comics artists and writers contributed eleven stories
to this anthology of fantasy stories, "all ... connected
by that spider web strand we call magic." The stories are
- "Alison Gross" (Charles Vess) is an illustrated
poem about a man who pays a penalty for refusing to kiss an ugly
- "Mutter the Scribe" (Dennis Fujitake) hosts a wizard
unexpectedly and decides to see if the wealthy old fellow would
be interested in a neatly transcribed copy of his notes on magic.
But muttering out loud while you transcribe notes on magic is
a bad idea....
- "I Bled the Sea" (Jeffrey Jones) is a two-page
illustrated poem about the origin of a sea.
- "Three Black Hearts" (Colleen Doran) beat in the
breasts of three nasty Northerners who control the lives of three
Southern witches after the war.
- "Generations" (Marv Wolfman and Craig Taillefer)
is a tale about how wizards took steps to prevent their magic
from being abused by royalty.
- "The Parchment of Her Flesh" (Michael Cohen, Mark
Sherman, and Dave Hoover), narrated by a jaguar, concerns a warrior
woman and her search for an ancient book of magic.
- "The Clay Dog" (Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier and
Philip Xavier), set in an African mythos, deals with a wandering
wiseman/wizard/lawgiver who investigates the murder of a village
- "Pilgrim Shadows" (David Gaddis) takes place in
the far future, where a corrective agent and a biographer seek
a missing author whose derangement is spilling over into reality.
- "Subtleman" (Rick Veitch) is a dream sequence that
explores some of the meanings found in dreams.
- "Book Bound in Human Skin" (Mark Sherman and Stephen
Blue) is the tale of a medium who carries a strange book and
exudes a foul odor, and the mentor/rival who schemes to take
that book from her.
- "Kara, Kali, and the Wind" (Michael Cohen) is a
fable about a girl who angers the wind when she gives shelter
to a wandering Vaya (wizard/thief/trickster).
The book also includes an introduction by Cohen and a list
of the participants' websites for "further explorations."
Fantasy anthologies such as this are fairly rare in comics (Weird Business springs to mind, but
that's mostly horror), and I'm pleased to report that this one
is first-rate. The stories show more variation in theme and tone
than in most text-only collections. They're all very professionally
done, both in story and art, and are easily up to their text-only
counterparts. Of course, as you will have noted while reading
the list up there, most of the participants in this project are
long-time comics pros, so the general quality of the book shouldn't
come as a surprise.
I have a couple of nit-picking comments. "The Clay Dog"
is a little awkwardly paced at times--at first I thought there
was a page out of sequence--and it isn't made clear that the
supposed murderer had been locked in the closet (a key point)
when the victim's widow found him; it's just said that the closet
was "closed." I could have done without the "superhero-style"
emphasis (i.e., the pointless emphasis of unexpected words) in
the lettering in "Three Black Hearts" and "Book
Bound in Human Skin." And "Pilgrim Shadows" (which
is Gaddis's first published work) has an incomplete air about
it, as if Gaddis had much more to say about the world he created
but didn't have the space.
The art is uniformly wonderful and also quite varied--it would
make a good overview of some of the best comics work being done
today. Most of it is black-and-white, but "Three Black Hearts"
and "Pilgrim Shadows" are in full color. No matter
the artist, the black-and-white art tends to be very clean-lined,
even when it's complicated, so it's easy to follow.
A second volume is promised, with an equally exciting lineup
of creators; may there be many more. Most highly recommended
for fantasy readers and library collections, and for anyone interested
in high-quality black-and-white comics art. Be aware that this
is the kind of book that can be overlooked by casual readers
in favor of glitzier four-color titles; it deserves a far better
fate than that.