Indie Comics Spotlight: Pencil Head, Devolution, Red Agent

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By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Pencil Head #1

pencil head

“Poodwaddle works steadily, and arduously, to meet his looming deadline.”

One of the most prevalent questions asked of any panel at any comic convention is, “How do I break into comics?” It’s a very complex question that requires a fantastically nuanced response, but in short, there’s no one way to do it. Those who have made a living in comics will tell you it’s not easy and not nearly as glamorous as one may hope. Image Comics offers up a very blunt take on the industry in Pencil Head #1. The issue is written and illustrated by Ted McKeever.

Journey along and witness protagonist Poodwaddle’s trials and tribulations of working and sustaining his place in the absurd world of comics, where what happens behind the scenes is far more twisted, and bizarrely hilarious, than anything on the printed page.

Poodwaddle is the vehicle for McKeever’s frustrations with the comic book industry, as he’s a freelance comic book artist working at Happy Time Offices. It’s a pretty basic story that’s steeped in symbolism as far as McKeever’s visual representations of the gamut of emotions a freelancer encounters. As any talent in the industry can tell you, there are some encounters that are too real to be made up and McKeever incorporates such flights of fancy in Pencil Head #1. Much of the first issue is focused on some of the more “routine” frustrations faced by a freelance comic book artist and are offered in a way that incorporates a surreality that’s meta in many ways. There is some silver lining to the book though, as Poodwaddle’s friend Luthais is the more successful artist and provides a contrast that reminds readers it’s not all gloom and doom.

Adding another layer of intensity to the work is McKeever’s illustrations which are purposefully exaggerated. Poodwaddle sports a somewhat rugged and tired look, befitting of an artist toiling away to meet deadlines (both editor and self-imposed). Other characters are depicted as monstrous entities, further underscoring the notion that many of the players in the comic book industry are pretty vile at their core. There’s definitely a hyperbolic approach to the artwork that reinforces the notion that there’s a “scary monster” aspect of fears that plays out in our minds. McKeever uses those monsters to great effect though, effectively creating a looming presence that always seems to be waiting on the next page.

Pencil Head #1 is a very dark (yet painfully accurate) take on the life of a freelance comic artist. There’s a lot of satisfaction in going freelance as it gives one tons of flexibility, but you’re forced to contend with the business side of the industry as well, which may not always be on the same page. McKeever’s industry experience contributes to a story that’s semi-autobiographical and infuses Pencil Head #1 with plenty of real experience. His artwork offers the right amount of satirical levity to what are otherwise pretty discouraging exchanges. Pencil Head #1 is a great read for any comic book fan, but there’s an extra level of silent nodding available to those creators within the industry.

Pencil Head #1 is in stores now.

Devolution #1

devolution

“Without a map you could wander for weeks.”

The way humanity treats the planet and each other is a little unsettling. It’s wholly possible (and likely) that the world will fall apart at the seams when things go down. Devolution #1 from Dynamite Entertainment is a very frank take on a world without order. The issue is written by Rick Remender, illustrated by Jonathan Wayshak, and colored by Jordan Boyd.

In the near future, the human population is too big and too careless while our small world struggles to recover. In our urgency to “fix” the problem with science, science turns on the human race. The cure becomes a disease that infects almost all of the living species on Earth, reversing the last forty millennia of evolution. The modern world of technology, religion, and law doesn’t mean much to animals and that’s what most of the world has become. One woman named Raja has managed to survive among the animals of this new world for a long time with only one mission: find a way to save the world.

Devolution #1 doesn’t really pull any punches in its bleak portrayal of a world fallen by the wayside. Additionally, Remender certainly isn’t shy about making the work as much of a political statement as it is a science-fiction story, focusing on the lazier aspects of human nature that is careening our planet into destruction. He puts the book on a relatively familiar path that’s reflective of current events, emphasizing a reliance on science to chase away religion (and vice versa). There’s a pretty in-depth review of the history behind the world Remender has created and it’s a pretty dire recap that works within the context of the issue. Remender jumps back and forth between the past and present, using a mysterious female character to carry the narrative.

The artistic approach used by Wayshak brings with it a griminess that’s befitting of the world he’s rendering. Characters are rife with emotion (mostly anger) and Wayshak relies on that as a means of reinforcing to the reader the state of the world. Characters interact with one another with a violent sense of purpose that gives the reader a sense of the devolution the world has undergone both physically and mentally. The panels are laid out with a basic format that is strictly adhered to, bringing a sense of order to the otherwise chaotic world. And Boyd’s colors are a mix of brutal reds and washed out greys that give the book a post-apocalyptic finish.

Devolution #1 is a very poignant take on the rapidly decaying state of affairs in the world. The concept of a world falling apart physically and mentally in lockstep is nothing new, but Devolution #1 is a pretty brash take on it. Remender’s diatribe comes off more as venting than preachy, giving readers a brutally honest glimpse at a possible future for our planet. Wayshak’s illustrations are blunt in their presentation, yet still do a fantastic job of offering a pessimistic world of savagery. Devolution #1 is a great first issue that doesn’t really trade in cheerful outcomes–instead, it offers up a rather depressed take on where our world may be heading.

Devolution #1 is in stores now.

Red Agent #1

red agent

“This is now Central Command for the Highborn Initiative.”

Living in the Grimm Fairy Tales Universe comes with its own set of perils. This is especially true if you’re a Highborn, as there are countless foes seeking your death. One such Highborn is Britney Waters and Zenescope is putting her in a new role in Red Agent #1. The issue is written by Lou Iovino, illustrated by Diego Galindo, colored by Grostieta, and lettered by Fabio Amelia.

Britney Waters, aka Red Riding Hood, is recruited by a secret government agency to help take down a rogue organization that is determined to take out any and all Highborn threats across the globe. Using the codename Red Agent, Britney must infiltrate the mysterious organization and ultimately confront a seemingly unstoppable weapon called “The Knight” – a sadistic, laboratory-enhanced warrior whose sole purpose is to seek and destroy.

The Highborns have long been a staple of the Grimm Fairy Tales universe so it only makes sense that there would eventually be a grander plot to systematically eliminate them one by one. It’s that approach that Iovino capitalizes on in Red Agent #1, giving Britney Waters a chance to perform in more of an espionage role. At this point, just about all the characters in this universe are well established, yet Iovino still manages to make Red Agent #1 feel something like a breath of fresh air. The script is pretty fundamental in its approach, but Iovino doesn’t allow that to hinder the story’s development. There’s a clearly established adversarial relationship developed between Britney and The Knight that plays well as the story unfolds.

The artistic style in Red Agent #1 is awash in superhero influences. Galindo renders each character and panel with a frenetic energy that gives the reader a great sense of the action. Britney looks easily recognizable in her “new” role as an agent of sorts and Galindo contrasts her more agile frame well with the more bulky opponent in The Knight. Much of the work features insets and overlays set against black gutters that better frame the action. The colors by Grostieta are largely darker and primary, with Britney’s red jumpsuit standing out amidst fiery orange explosions.

Red Agent #1 is a very ambitious take on a recognizable character in the Zenescope universe. Britney Waters always seems to be able to handle any situation, but it’s clear from the first issue that she may have met her match. There’s a clear direction that Iovino wants to take the tale and the first issue is a pretty solid foundation ton which to build. The artwork feels very clean, with Galindo’s style sporting an action polish. Red Agent #1 gives fans of the character a new take on her that could work very well.

Red Agent #1 is in stores now.


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