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Written and Drawn by Scott Christian Sava
Published by Blue Dream Studios

Alexander Carter spent his childhood nights dreaming the most magnificent dreams… every night we would find himself in Dreamland, hanging out with faeries, rock trolls, and other wonderful creatures. But one night, his dream set him against a dragon, and when he captured the sword the dragon was guarding, he woke and never returned to that magical land. Now grown and in college, a package of his childhood heirlooms arrives from his mother that puts him back into the lives of those he thought he only imagined. If only he could explain to those in the real world why he appears to die every night when he falls asleep…

DREAMLAND is a charming and quaint book, with an almost anachronistic feel to it. Sava’s situations and characters remind the reader very much of the books we owned and read as children. The next step beyond the Little-Golden type, really. Alexander and his brother go to college, but it’s a mostly calm and wholesome place, lacking some of the more…unique… aspects of modern university life. Dreamland itself feels threatening, but never quite so much that it feels horrifying. My point here is that this book has been carefully constructed to be appropriate for a broader audience. This is definitely something you could give to a “tween” reader, and not feel worried or concerned about it. In fact, I gave it to an eleven-year old girl who promptly read it in one sitting, then took it to bed and slept with it in her arms.

The fantasy elements and plot themselves are fairly standard for the genre; a boy who has greater power than he knows and therefore owns a special destiny… we know it well. But it’s at least executed in entertaining fashion, and I didn’t feel bored by it. Indeed, as someone who generally loathes fantasy, I was surprised at how engaged I was by the book. Maybe it was Sava’s gorgeous 3-D rendered art, I don’t know. But DREAMLAND CHRONICLES succeeds in its aims, and that gets proper respect from me.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Nickelodeon

You hear a lot these days about no one really making comics for younger kids. I tend to respond to those allegations with one word: “Manga!” But as this excellent magazine reminded me, there’s another great source for comic material aimed at a younger audience. The channel that aims its programming squarely at that demographic is continually producing new and terrific stuff for children, and this collection brings a bunch of it together under one cover for a very affordable price.

What’s here? Nickelodeon staples like SpongeBob Squarepants and the Fairly Odd Parents put in appearances, but there’s much, much more. For your five yanqui dollars, you get material from Evan Dorkin, Michael Kupperman, Ellen Forney, Craig Thompson, Jason Lutes, James Kolchaka, Terry Laban, Gahan Wilson, Jordan Crane, Steven Weissman, and more. Looking at that list, you’d expect this to be a twenty-dollar anthology produced by Fantagraphics. While not every bit is a stroke of pure genius, the ratio of good pieces is very high, and easily matches the cover price (and betters it).

The bits included also include games, one of which allows you to cut apart panels so you can arrange your own comic strip. Those looking for a way to draw the attention of the next young generation of creators need not look further for an outstanding reminder of how to do it. I have an eleven-year old in my house right now that will eat it up with a spoon. This is simply an excellent buy for anyone looking for a great gift idea for a younger kid, and fun for adults, to.

Marc Mason

Written by Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones and Drawn by Tim Hamilton
Published by Checker

Volume two of GIRLS collects the back half of the original Malibu/Eternity run (minus the annual), and shows the classic series really beginning to hit its stride. Fresh off of being stranded in a South American jungle at the end of volume one, Lester and friends must navigate their way back to civilization. Of course, it’s never that easy for Lester Girls; first he’ll have to deflower the local village’s virgins, stop a human sacrifice, and survive a Conrad-inspired river journey. Then the way home stands blocked by a trip to the Orient, and a high school reunion that returns his first love to his life. These obstacles might destroy lesser men, but for Lester, it’s all in a day’s work

As the series progressed, you could see Jacobs and Jones getting more and more comfortable with the tone and pace of the book, and that enabled them to get more and more outlandish (using Mexican food terms as the local language in the jungle, for instance) as they went along. But they also began to develop the background of the characters and series as well, developing a larger tapestry to work with. Indeed, the return to Lester’s hometown would lay fertile ground for the series for years to come. They also began experimenting with the storytelling, turning over one issue’s narration and focus to Apache Dick. Most indy books would be terrified to try something like that early in the book’s run, barely established, but GIRLS was a product of a different era.

Hamilton’s art continued to get a lot more confident during these issues, and inker Dave Garcia gave his line a more solid and real look to it. Really, by the time these issues were hitting the stands, TROUBLE WITH GIRLS was one of the five best books being produced, period. Hilarious, action-packed, and sexually sly, this was one of the greats. The only complaint I could possibly have right now is that there don’t appear to be plans to print more volumes of the series. One of my all-time favorites, and still a champion.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Joshua Kemble
Published by Joshua Kemble

Xeric winner Josh Kemble ruminates on love, loss and inspiration in NUMB, delivering some very pretty art and storytelling that shines far brighter than the tale being told. This not being unusual at all, NUMB is then a solidly successful effort, and worth a look on the stands.

NUMB tells the story of a writer named Seymour who has gone dry since his girlfriend Leah dumped him. As his happiness and joy bled away, he crawled deeper within his own head and lost his creative steam. But when he realizes that his relationship with Leah was all the inspiration he needs to get back on the horse he begins to find himself again. Unfortunately, all those happy memories and wonderful moments can’t prevent Leah from offering up one last, enormous cock-block to Seymour’s ability to tap his creative juices.

Kemble’s gift is his artwork. NUMB is a lovely book to look at, Kemble employing a style that isn’t photo-realistic, but close enough that you easily get a sense of reality from his pages that many other artists struggle with. The pages are printed in blue and white, and that adds to the depth of Seymour’s emotional state. It’s a terrific artistic journey. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t quite live up to the promise the art offers. Love, loss, and inspiration are universal themes, so you need something with some power to elevate a story that uses them for their focus. Seymour’s focus on the clichés of road trips, music, moving in together, etc., is ultimately not compelling. The only time the story really delivers a punch is when we discover what Leah’s been up to since the pair broke up, and more was needed.

As I mentioned above, art defeating story in a newer creator’s project is pretty common, and with talent for the page like Kemble’s, I would expect to see some serious growth from this creator in the near future. NUMB is a decent debut and definitely not a burn, but the best is surely to come.

Marc Mason

Written by Scott Christian Sava and Drawn by Diego Jourdan
Published by Blue Dream Studios

A young Earth boy gets a stunning surprise when a spaceship crashes into his tree house in ED’S TERRESTRIALS, one of the better all-ages books I’ve seen in quite some time. Ed, who loves comics and has the occasional problem with believing that the Earth might be invaded by aliens, is at first taken aback by these developments, but when he gets to know his visitors and discovers their problem, he quickly becomes an agent for their cause.
The aliens in question, Marcello, Gus, and Al, are on the run from Mall Security, having escaped from their jobs at the Intergalactic Food Court. Not only must they deal with being fugitives, but they also want to help their friends still stuck on their jobs escape as well, and what better place to build an intergalactic door than inside Ed’s tree house? However, the biggest obstacle for each of them may not be Security, or the manipulations of Ed’s biggest enemy, rich girl Natalie… no, the biggest obstacle the aliens face is deciding what they want to do with their lives and careers now that they have an actual choice in their fates. Fortunately, Ed is about to discover his own special gift and what it can do to help his new friends.

I read ED’S TERRESTRIALS with a smile on my face throughout, delighted by the multi-layered story that Sava was telling, the wonderful characters on the stage, and the outstanding artwork by Jourdan. A book of this nature rises and falls on the commitment to the reality it’s based upon, and Jourdan dives in and depicts a world where everything looks natural and as if it belongs, even the fantastic. Packaged in a nice hardcover, I’d have no hesitation in handing this book to a child between the ages of three to ninety.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Nate Powell
Published by Microcosm Publishing

Indiana-based Powell has spent more than a decade producing independent comics and zines, the majority of them now out of print. SOUNDS OF YOUR NAME collects those pieces, some dating back to 1992, and brings them together under one cover. SOUNDS is a handsomely produced collection, a healthy 300+ pages of material, and an interesting look at an artist’s strengths and weaknesses over time.

Powell’s primary strength as a creator is easily his art. SOUNDS shows Powell to have an amazing range, as he varies his style from near photo-realistic to sketchily stylized. He also has a gift for detailed backgrounds, giving his stories and panels more of a sense of place and grounding them solidly in the world. There are many pages here where you can just stop for a moment and admire what he’s accomplishing in the margins. His people avoid comicbook clichés as well, varying in body type and maintaining a sense of the real about them. He’s very much an impressive storyteller as an artist.

But his flaw comes in the writing. While there are some strong stories here (“The Great Distraction” among them), too many of them deliver miniscule payoff or are outright pretentious. The worst offender is the “spotlight” story that closes the book, the 70-page “It Disappears”. Powell again delivers some lovely art, but the attempt to present something deeply philosophical about reacting to modern life lands with a resounding thud. In “Disappears” as well as in many other stories, the creator loses sight of telling an actual tale, instead putting the focus on his point of view, making the final result read as self-aggrandizement.

Powell isn’t the first or last alt-cartoonist to fall into this trap, and his work is certainly something to keep an eye on. Hopefully, he’ll continue to develop as a writer and iron some of the kinks out of his delivery. His gift as an artist is too good to not keep an eye on.

Marc Mason

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