Indie Comic Spotlight-Clown, The Life After #1, The Fox-Freak Magnet

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by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)


Clown

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“The saying goes: everyone loves a clown.”

Clowns have the unenviable job of making those around them laugh. The thing is, some people are scared to death of clowns and others don’t really appreciate their slapstick sense of humor. And behind the make-up are men and women doing a job they may love or hate. Some of them embrace the role, while others view it as just a job. Jared Bastian falls into the latter category in Clown, written by James Maddox and illustrated by Brandon Lauhon.

Bastian is a former journalist. Things were going well for him when he had his job, but then the recession hit and he was forced to find work elsewhere. Unfortunately for him, the only opening he managed to find was as a clown in a roaming circus. When a group of revolutionaries attempt to spread their agenda during his performance, Jared puts a forceful stop to them and finds himself at the center of the Empire’s attention.

It’s easy to see the title of the book and think that things are going to be pies-to-the-face and seltzer-water-to-the-eye. Yes, Clown does feature those antics, but it goes a lot deeper than that. Maddox characterizes Bastian as a man determined to keep two halves of the whole separate; he’s fine with performing as Willie the Worrier as long as the role doesn’t identify him. The thing is that Bastian’s values bleed through as Willie, so even though he wants the two roles different on their surfaces, at the core he’s still the same person. That dichotomy shines through in a singular presentation by the end of the issue as Maddox really drops an emotional hammer on the reader. The majority of the issue is spent with the reader simply following along with the twists and turns of Bastian’s clown career and the events lead up to a rather epic and poignant twist.

Much of the book seems to take place in the shadows, which is somewhat ironic considering the clowns perform in the spotlight. Lauhon illustrates the characters with a gritty realism, giving the reader just enough to comprehend what’s going on. Many of the characters showcase facial expressions that largely line up with greed and avarice, which is befitting considering that the Empire seems to be all about greed. The entire book is illustrated in black and white, which might be the only minor gripe; considering the book is about clowns, you’d expect to see some colors. It’s definitely not something that hurts the book, as the coloring (or lack thereof) emphasizes the emptiness that Bastian feels in his position.

Clown is a fascinating investigation into one man’s struggles to reconcile two different halves of himself. His pride is largely destroyed by the fact that he loses his job and is then forced to endure public humiliation in the role of Willie the Worrier. Still, though, he forces himself to hold onto what’s left of his pride, even in spite of everything else being taken from him. Maddox pens a very compelling tale about the sacrifices we make to better ourselves and how far we’re comfortably willing to go to make a living without forfeiting our self-worth. The dark illustrations by Lauhon add a subtle touch of depression to the character and story, effectively presenting Bastian as a sympathetic character. Clown is a fascinating book that delves deep into the soul and presents a delicious moral quandary.

Clown is available now via Comixology.

The Life After #1

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“The sun rises at 5:58 every day, waking me up just a tiny bit before my alarm would go off, robbing me of three minutes of sleep.”

Some days feel like repeats of days past. It could be because of your job. It could be the route you take every day to get somewhere. Regardless of what it is, there’s a familiarity in patterns: one that feels comfortable to some and soul-crushing to others. The Life After #1 from Oni Press is a book that dwells in the latter. The issue is written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and illustrated by Gabo.

It’s very easy to get settled into something of a routine, which is exactly what Jude “suffers” from in the book. He wakes up at the same time everyday, goes to the same job (long enough to be promoted) and rides the same bus everyday. Lather, rinse, repeat. It all makes for a rather boring life, until he decides to finally muster the courage to approach a woman who rides the same bus as him. From there, things get pretty crazy as Jude realizes that there’s a lot more to the life he leads than he was previously aware of.

There’s some pretty existential ground to be covered in The Life After #1 and Fialkov makes sure that it’s covered in rather weird ways. The book opens up feeling like it’s really going to be another instance where the main character struggles to break out of complacency. Then it turns into something akin to Philip K. Dick’s Adjustment Team, where everything everyone does is meticulously planned and deviating from that plan creates havoc. By the end of the book, it feels as if the entire story is unraveling and you’re trying to keep up. Jude generates a lot of empathy because he’s a character many readers can relate to: someone who goes through life living the same routine everyday and feeling there’s not much they can do about it. The twist lies in the rationale behind such a routine in that the character is essentially trapped in a purgatory of sorts. Such an arc in the first issue feels extremely ambitious.

If the story itself is ambitious, the art is quirky. Most of the characters exhibit doldrums in their emotion and it’s something that Gabo does very well. His style further enhances the run-of-the-mill appearance of Jude, helping the reader really believe he’s just another guy. The opening pages are chock full of smaller panels showing off the monotony of the routine, but thankfully Gabo gets to stretch things out a bit later on in the book. As the story veers in different directions throughout, Gabo handles the strangeness very well, successfully blending together many elements of the odd into one coherent whole. The characters themselves don’t showcase the same detail as the settings and backgrounds, but Gabo blends them together in a way that just works.

The Life After #1 is rife with questions of fate versus free will. It’s a book that seems to meander at times, trying to figure out exactly what it wants to be. Fialkov proposes concepts that could be very interesting down the road (such as the real reason for Jude’s routine), even if they’re presented in ways that snowball the story by its end. There are really only two characters for the reader to latch onto: Jude and the other who is presented as something of an awakening conduit for Jude. Gabo’s art is distant in a way that’s befitting of the book and the potentially heady subject matter. The Life After #1 starts off going down one path, but by the end it hits a fork in the road and goes in a direction that doesn’t even seem to exist. Whether or not it works remains to be seen, but the first issue forces you to think about life in ways you may not do on a daily basis.

The Life After #1 is in stores now.

The Fox: Freak Magnet

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“What I long for is a simple life. That’s my problem.”

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of powers and abilities. Some people don’t need powers to be a hero; they just capitalize on their talents. For Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, it was sheer wealth and ingenuity. For Paul Patton, Jr., it’s a Fox costume. In The Fox: Freak Magnet from Archie Comics, The Fox will quickly realize that being the center of attention isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The script is written by Mark Waid (with Dean Haspiel on “A Picture Lasts Forever” and J.M. DeMatteis on “Freak Magnet Part 5” and “The Face of Hate”), illustrated by Haspiel (with Mike Cavallaro assisting on “The Face of Hate”), inks by Terry Austin in “The Face of Hate,” letters by John Workman, and colors by Allen Passalaqua, Steve Downer and Andrew Covalt.

The Fox is a superhero without the super who’s been saving the day since the 1940s. Paul Patton, Jr., is a photojournalist who can never seem to get be at the right place at the right time for the photo. This, of course, prompts him to think it’s a good idea to don The Fox costume and have the story come to him. His latest adventures have him and his wife Mae moving back to Impact City in an attempt to reconnect with his daughter Kelly. His first assignment is with Ms. Lucy Fur who turns out to be a lot more than he bargained for. From there, he’s summoned by the Queen of Diamonds and crosses paths with other Red Circle characters like Inferno and The Marvel.

The Fox is characterized as vibrant and exciting, thanks to Waid’s firm grasp of the character. He’s genuinely trying to do the right thing and couldn’t seem to catch a break before donning the costume. Now, trouble seems drawn to him (or, as he puts it, he’s a Freak Magnet) and life is a heady mix of exciting and challenging for him. The character is a fantastic throwback to the past and Waid doesn’t let more modern themes get in the way of the character fighting all manner of freakiness. The stories themselves feel extremely weird in a positive way, much like The Tick and the opponents he fought. The Fox is a lot more intelligent than The Tick though and Waid allows The Fox to rely on more than just brute strength to get through tough situations.

Artistically, The Fox: Freak Magnet feels like it comes from a different time of comics. In a way it does, as the characters have been around for quite some time, but Haspiel’s work is gorgeous. All the characters are illustrated in very well-defined lines that have them cutting their way through some pretty insane backdrops. What’s more is that since the characters come from a different era, there’s definitely more of a variety of body types, ranging from The Fox himself to tentacled beasts, all of whom Haspiel handles deftly. Every panel is chock full of action and the book must have been a beast to illustrated, but Haspiel pays very close attention to detail and ensures that nothing is lost on the reader’s eye. There’s a lot take in on the book and Haspiel (in addition to the other artists) do their best to deliver a cohesive package.

The Fox: Freak Magnet is a pretty zany but adventurous story that follows along with a man who can’t seem to stop encountering the weird and wacky. It’s a series of stories that are so outlandish that you can’t help but scratch your head and wonder what’s going on. Waid’s writing makes such a statement a compliment, as The Fox is a character you really want to pull for and even though he’s in one crazy situation after the next, you enjoy following his exploits. Haspiel has been Eisner and Ignatz nominated, but he actually won an Emmy for his design work in Bored to Death and his talents are on full display in The Fox: Freak Magnet. The collection of stories is definitely a little on the odd side, but considering the title has “freak” in it, that’s meant in the most sincere way possible.

The Fox: Freak Magnet is in stores now.


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