Indie Comics Spotlight – All Crime Comics, The Sunless Circus and 1001 Nights
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
All Crime Comics Vol. 1
“Any dime-store novel will talk of their characters steelin’ themselves in moments of merit or strife.”
Criminals seem to have all the fun. They get loads of money, drive nice cars and end up being well-respected (feared?) by most of those around them. At the end of the day though, they’re just normal people, dealing with people breaking promises to them, planning elaborate escape jobs and having friends lose favor with them. All Crime Comics #1 has all that and a bit more. The first issue is called “The Hard Graft,” written by the Art of Fiction and lettered by Tony Fleecs. The first and third chapters are illustrated by Ed Laroche (colored by Fleecs), while the second chapter is illustrated by Marc Sandroni (colored by Andrew Siegel).
Dodger and Louis are friends since high school, leveraging their strong bond in forming a partnership in crime. Dodger was always the more boastful one in a sense, ready to help Louis when he was being bullied by the jocks. Eventually, Louie fell in love with Carla, who just so happened to be the same Carla that Dodger fell for. Their criminal aspirations culminated in a racetrack, lots of bodies and a trip to Leavenworth for Louie. All the while Carla is waiting for Louie and Dodger is waiting for his chance to take back what he believes is his.
Breaking the first issue up into three chapters makes the story feel much grander in scope; almost like a three-act play. The writing team paces the story beautifully, offering the reader the present state of things for Dodger, a brief look at his past with Louie and their future together in the grand plot. The plot feels like a story from Oceans 11 or the old grifter stories. Those tales were predicated on multiple moving parts and plans with zero margin for error, offering up a great sense of entertainment for the reader. Dodger is very likable as a lead character in that lovable rogue sense and his love for Carla exceeds just about anything else.
Speaking of Carla, she’s barely in the story at all, but she’s such a crucial element of the relationship between Dodger and Louie. Both men spent time vying for her affections and it was ultimately Louie who ended up with her, much to the dismay of Dodger. You could argue which one is more deserving of being with her and it’s that argument that really gives you some pause as you’re watching the tale unfold. On the one hand, Louie is pretty underhanded and coarse, yet still put together enough to be with Carla. Dodger is a little more reckless and bold, which is something that endeared him to Carla originally. Dodger is the clear protagonist and Louie the clear antagonist though, but neither is really “right.”
The art is fantastic. Laroche’s illustrations are somewhere between Frank Miller and Francesco Francavilla, with a little bit of Paul Pope mixed in for good measure. The influences of those artistic luminaries are clearly evident, as Laroche illustrates characters who are used to getting their hands dirty and don’t mind going through the day with someone else’s blood. The illustrations are understandably gritty and hammer home the fact that these characters inhabit a filthy, dangerous world. Fleec’s colors draw from a darker palette with a lot of yellows and reds on display, perhaps to highlight the rampant sense of anger and isolation felt by the characters.
Sandroni’s work in the second chapter is quite the contrast, but just as good as Laroche. Sandroni taps into a nostalgic look for the appropriately nostalgic retelling of how Dodger and Louie met, offering a break from the present day and a nod to what were presumably happier times. The work has the look of a comic book from the 1950s and while the two main characters didn’t necessarily inhabit those times, the style is unique enough that it reminds the reader that they’re no longer in the present. Siegel’s colors in the second chapter are expectedly more upbeat and positive; the general warmth conveys a happier sense of emotion, before Dodger and Louie decided to start going their separate ways.
All Crime Comics Vol. 1 is a very solid foray into looking at what happens when friends become criminals, and criminal friends become enemies. You’re encouraged to root for Dodger, mainly because he gets most of the attention and Louie comes off a little sleazy. Carla is the real point of the story, as both of the previous friends are doing everything in their power to one-up the other in the interest of being with her. She’s the real “boss” in the story, despite her relative lack of involvement in the criminal activities and minimal presence on the pages. The issue is a great one worth reading if you like stories of crime and punishment, both of which are meted out liberally inAll Crime Comics Vol. 1.
All Crime Comics Vol. 1 is available via Comixology now.
The Sunless Circus #1
Dick Grayson is one (if not the) most famous acrobats in the comic book universe. His origin as Robin as a job change was predicated by a rather tragic event, something that almost always seems to the case in these situations. Sometimes though, switching from one job to the other is a little less traumatic and just involves a little perseverance and hard work. A robot acrobat has such persistence in The Sunless Circus #1, written and illustrated by Chris Kawagiwa.
Prepare to marvel at the spectacular feats of the Amazing Ardee, the Robot Boy Acrobat. If only the life of an acrobatic robot were that simple, as Ardee has grander ambitions than just impressing crowds at a traveling circus with his amazing ability. He’s got an eye for economics and business, seeking to better himself and get out of the monotony of the circus he rolls with. While the crowds will certainly miss his talents, Ardee won’t really miss the crowds all that much in his new future.
Kawagiwa made an interesting choice in utilizing no dialogue in the book (save for a few narration boxes). The Sunless Circus #1 is billed as a silent comic though and for the purpose of the book it actually works exceptionally well. The story is simple enough and doesn’t really need a lot of text bubbles to convey Kawagiwa’s message to the reader. That message is that many of us aren’t really happy with our lot in life and have our eyes to the horizon in terms of what we can do that will make us happy. The silent aspect of the comic really helps the sadness resonate with the reader as it’s a situation that most can commiserate with and rarely requires words to fully grasp the situation.
As far as the art goes Kawagiwa does a brilliant job, offering up an old-timey, carnival feel that matches the story’s atmosphere appropriately. And for Ardee being a robot, he’s great at showing emotion with his facial expressions, a feat that Kawagiwa pulls off with relative ease it would seem. There’s also some very interesting panel layouts, where some bits of the action fill out the full-page panel and his highlighted by the panels surrounding that focal point in the action. The black and white art is a good fit for the tale and keeps up with the silent movie atmosphere being pitched by Kawagiwa.
The Sunless Circus #1 is a very poignant look at happiness as a direct product of job satisfaction. It’s a link that’s been debated, but Kawagiwa feels it’s a big enough deal to create a wonderful tale about it. It’s a short comic that’s usually ends up being to the detriment of the work, but in this case it’s perfectly appropriate for the story at hand. This is a book that easily feels like it could be part of an Archaia anthology and is very reminiscent of Return of the Dapper Men. Definitely a book worth checking out.
The Sunless Circus #1 is available now via Comixology.
1001 Nights: What’s Yours is Mine #1
“It begins with a poor fisherman named Jianyu.”
Being nice will get your through life. Being evil will make enemies of potential friends. A nice person encountering an evil person will likely have a difference of opinion on how to proceed in certain situations. Dealing with a sudden increase in wealth that some would consider priceless is such an encounter in 1001 Nights: What’s Yours is Mine #1 from Big Bad Boo Productions. The first issue is written by Victor Nicolle, illustrated by Johnny Castuciano, inked by Marta Ziemnicka and colored by Ziemnicka and Vivian Tan.
Jianyu is a fisherman, struggling to make ends meet in a world where the Emperor isn’t shy about flaunting his wealth. His latest fishing trip nets him a mermaid, who brings with her a desire to be free and the offer of a grand pearl as thanks for Jianyu being an all-around good guy. That sincerity is put to the test by the aforementioned Emperor, content to take what he wants from his subjects as long as he’s within the letter of the law. What ensues is a back and forth between the two regarding ownership of the pearl.
Nicolle’s story is very much a parable of sorts. It carries with it lessons that just because you have the power, it doesn’t entitle you to taking whatever you want. Sometimes (as is the case with Jianyu), you’re not as fortunate to be replete with financial wealth, but you make up for it in other ways. Having the pearl made Jianyu the “wealthiest” person in the village thanks to his luck with the mermaid and it’s that success that makes the Emperor extremely jealous. Jianyu offers extreme patience when faced with adversity, which is a lesson that many could stand to learn. Nicolle presents this very elegantly as well, relying on relatively strong dialogue to convey the moral of the story.
Castuciano’s art is very cartoonish and work really well to tell the story. It’s a morality tale that is better served being targeted at children, but Castuciano’s art straddles the line between being adult and childish. He uses bold, outlined panels that stand out amidst the background action, with every page featuring a full-page scene in the background. It’s a very quirky art style that’s very appropriate for the story being told, including characters who wear their “allegiance” to good and bad on their faces.
1001 Nights: What’s Yours is Mine #1 is a tried and true story that offers a familiar tale of patience and power. The characters are easy to relate to and help solidify the story. This is definitely more of an all-ages comic that will likely have more appeal to younger readers, but that’s not to say that older readers won’t get anything out of it. The story and art blend well together and offer a solid reinterpretation of a familiar story. This is also the first of what is expected to be many of stories from the publisher that offer new takes on old morality tales.
1001 Nights: What’s Yours is Mine #1 is available now via Comixology.