Indie Comics Spotlight: Calexit #1, Zojaqan #1, and Skin & Earth #1


By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Calexit #1

It’s no secret that the United States as a country is having something of an identity crisis. Different sides of the spectrum are warring with words as to whose side is more in line with what the Constitution intended. For some people that belief goes so far as wanting to withdraw from the country entirely as California does in Calexit #1 from Black Mask Studio. The issue is written by Matteo Pizzolo, illustrated by Amancay Nahuelpan (flats by Dee Cunniffe), colored by Tyler Boss, and lettered by Jim Campbell.

What if a fascist, autocratic President took over the United States? And what if that President lost California, the sixth largest economy on Earth, by nearly two-to-one – a margin of almost three-and-a-half million votes? What if the day after that President took power, the largest mass demonstration in history occurred, and the state with the largest turnout was California? And then, the following week, two of the largest international airports in the world, California’s LAX and SFO, were blockaded by protesters? What if California refused to be ruled?

From the jump, Pizzolo demonstrates that he’s not really in a gaming mood in Calexit #1, starting off the issue with a rather fiery intro that immediately sets the tone. The concept of California breaking off isn’t as far-fetched as, say, South Carolina doing so – a fact seemingly not lost on Pizzolo. The narrative is set to funnel through Zora (a fugitive) and Jamil (a courier), both of whom view the events leading to the Calexit differently. And those events mirror the direction the United States seems to be headed after the 2016 election, adding a stark sense of reality to the work of “fiction.” The dialogue throughout the issue is clean and engaging, clearly defining each of the characters and the stakes they maintain in a world where California is fighting for independence from an autocratic regime.

The illustrations by Nahuelpan are gritty in a way that adds a sense of realism to the work. Nahuelpan infuses the book with a serious sense of dystopian realism by rendering panels full of rundown areas that were previously tourist hot spots. Where Naheulpan excels most, though, in how he successfully mixes vestiges of the old way of life with the new, blending together seemingly common events with the new, militaristic events in a way that makes it all feel oddly normal. Characters are illustrated in a way that reflects the recent decline in lifestyle because of the arrival of the newly deputized National Guard, blending together somewhat normal looks with a rebellious mentality. And Boss’ colors are dire throughout, washing the book with reds for the most part that underscore the severity of the situation.

Calexit #1 is a brilliant take on an entirely plausible future. Zora and Jamil are on two sides of the conflict in a way, but it’s likely they have more in common than they may realize at first. Pizzolo’s story is terrifying in its possibilities as it portends a near-future that brings with it oppression and fear. Nahuelpan’s illustrations are a perfect fit for the script as it brings to life a militarized California. Calexit #1 is a great story that brings with it a lot of fear and possibility.

Calexit #1 is available now.

Zojaqan #1

Coping with a traumatic event is done in a variety of different ways. It’s a good bet, though, that getting stranded in a strange, foreign environment with beings who want to devour you is on top of the list. Vault Comics has it on their list in Zojaqan #1. The issue is written by Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing, illustrated by Nathan Gooden, colored by Vittorio Astone, and lettered by Deron Bennett.

Grieving mother Shannon Kind awakens on a primordial world, mysteriously wielding the power to shape its destiny. Will she be this world’s savior – or its destroyer?

As Zojaqan #1 unfolds, Kelly and Lanzing afford Shannon Kind plenty of opportunity for introspection as she fights for survival. And that’s what makes the book so exhilarating in that it vacillates somewhat between grief and an instinct to survive. The script by Kelly and Lanzing delves into Shannon’s past in a way that’s extremely emotional and affords the reader the opportunity to learn more about her present situation in a strange new world. What’s even more impactful is how Kelly and Lanzing add emotional heft to each and every decision she makes – many of which serve as painful reminders of the life she used to live. And the world of Zojaqan itself is nothing short of sheer imagination, reflecting a primordial creativity on the part of the writers to make it feel grand.

Gooden’s illustrations support the book’s fantasy aspirations by rendering a very lush, jungle atmosphere. The wildlife that Shannon is forced to contend with is a mix of Alien and dinosaurs, stoking both fear and awe in readers. The facial expressions are extremely stylized as Gooden relies on those to emphasize her responses to a variety of situations and memories. Gooden’s style is full of loose linework and rough shading that comes across rather pulpy in a way that works well for the book. Astone’s colors are sufficiently vibrant where appropriate even if the entire book has a washed-out feel to it.

The narrative in Zojaqan #1 is grief wrapped in survival. Shannon is a character who has dealt with a devastating loss that came as a result of a society not equipped to handle differences that then thrusts her into a world she’s not equipped to deal with. The script by Kelly and Lanzing is very introspective and delves into some very heady territory as far as how society and individuals interact with one another. Gooden’s artwork is truly fantastic and lends the book enough credibility as a tale full of fantasy. Zojaqan #1 is a brilliant first read that successfully mixes sorrow and optimism through Shannon’s thoughts and actions.

Zojaqan #1 is available now.

Skin & Earth #1

Climate change is a very real phenomenon in the world. The data can be disputed by just about anyone, but by and large, there’s truth to the notion that humans are having an impact on the world’s climate. That premise is in full force in Skin & Earth #1 from Dynamite Comics. The issue is written and illustrated by Lights.

Skin & Earth is a story of a girl looking for hope in a hopeless world. Caught between romance and cults, gods and mortals, and just trying to find a good borscht, Enaia Jin is lead down a dark path by new lovers that reveal a twisted fantasy world and her own true nature. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where corporations rule, this adventurous tale of loneliness, deceit and self-discovery begins here!

Enaia Jin is essentially an outcast attempting to make it in a seemingly foreign world, although Lights reminds the reader that the world really isn’t that far-fetched. The premise behind Skin & Earth #1 touches on environmental and acceptance issues as Lights uses the former to drive the latter. The first issue unfolds in a way that’s very steady and gives the reader enough to understand what’s happening without going overboard as far as the history of the story goes. What works really well is how Lights takes the reader along with Enaia through one of her typical days as a means of showing what she (and the world at large) have to contend with. Lights also gives the book plenty of heart through Enaia’s responses to both worlds around her in that she responds by adapting and taking things as they come.

The artwork in Skin & Earth #1 is ethereal in many regards. Lights renders each character with concise linework that gives everything a uniform appearance. This approach is even more impactful as the book progresses in that Lights doesn’t oversaturate panels with immense detail; rather, she lets the characters stand out and further reinforces Enaia’s loneliness. Panels offer interesting perspectives of the action as Lights focuses on particular actions for effect, such as close-ups of a phone as Enaia is awaiting a call. The color range by Lights offer a pinkish hue for the most part that fits in with the larger, environmental driving forces behind the story.

Skin & Earth #1 is a fantastic first issue that focuses on the impact humanity has on the environment and the resulting consequences. Enaia is fighting for something better, even if that means dealing with the same people responsible for her current predicament. Lights’ script is straightforward and engaging, building Enaia up as a hero to root for. The linework and colors by Lights are very formal in a way that bolsters the somewhat regimented society the characters live in. Skin & Earth #1 is worth checking out for something new that looks at a future that’s entirely possible if we keep on our current path.

Skin & Earth #1 is available now.

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