By Zack Quaintance — Every month, I work diligently (by reading comics) to catch up with books I’ve heard quite a bit about but just haven’t had a chance to sit down with for whatever reason. This, I’m happy to report, generally leads to me finding new stories that I like a lot, as well as a good number of new writers and artists I was previously unfamiliar with, although that’s not the case this month. From Martin Morazzo’s artwork on Ice Cream Man to Dan Watters’ recent Vault Comic book Deep Roots, this month’s new discoveries feature creators I know and like.
What’s new (obviously) are the exact books they worked on. Our first entry, She Could Fly, comes from Dark Horse’s excellent Berger Books imprint, started and overseen by former Vertigo editor Karen Berger, who was at the helm there for that imprint’s greatest successes. Between this one and Seeds, it’s quickly becoming clear just how much potential an imprint like this one has. And with a collaboration from G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward coming next year? Oof, we’re in for some good comics.
Anyway, enough about future good comics! Let’s check out this month’s new discoveries!
She Could Fly by Christopher Cantwell & Martin Morazzo
She Could Fly has one of the most intriguing first pages of a comic I’ve read in some time. It’s a simple page, three panels and 10 words. A woman flies high in the air as people watch below. She could fly. I saw it. With my own eyes. And on this page we get our first glimpse of our hero, looking shocked and enraptured, mouth agape and eyes wide. The book, really, only gets better from there. For someone who is ostensibly not a comic writer—not primarily, anyway, given his background in TV—Christopher Cantwell’s economic storytelling throughout She Could Fly does an incredible amount of work. There’s much character interiority, cluing readers in on fears and concerns and priorities, on what this world is like for the principal characters within it.
She Could Fly features extra-sized issues, 32 pages of story in each, yet never feels bloated. It’s a lean and relatively quiet series with varied interests, much like its Dark Horse Berger Books imprint mate, Seeds (another of my favorite comics right now) and like the second entry on our list today, Limbo. She Could Fly contains explorations of mental health (that’s the big one), media, physics, governmental versus private sector research, transcendental meditation, and christianity, which outwardly don’t seem to belong together but squint a bit and you’ll see the connections. Something that works well here is the aforementioned focus on mental health. The protagonist’s condition is unspecified (in back matter, Cantwell notes he’s dealt with primarily obsessional OCD), and the creators lean into her mental health problems to blur reality, leading to striking visuals and questions about what’s real.
I found She Could Fly captivating, a great use of the sequential graphic medium, almost like a novel in that it patiently developed multiple characters (and their priorities) while maintaining a deep focus on interior lives...and then slammed everyone together. It’s one of the most immersive comics I’ve read all year, due in large part to the art of Martin Morazzo, who just gets Chicago so damn right. I’m from that city, and Morazzo’s art nails every detail, street scenes to the insides of restaurants, all of which have a distinctly provincial feel. Also, one thing I’ve admired about Morazzo’s work in Ice Cream Man (see our July 2018 New Discoveries) is present again here: visuals seamlessly move between the horrific and mundane as Morazzo organically depicts monsters within an otherwise grounded world.
Tremendous work from all involved, She Could Fly makes good on the promise of the Berger Books imprint. It’s a comic that feels at once vital and urgent yet is also steeped in an assured command of craft. So glad I finally had a chance to catch up with this one.
Limbo by Dan Watters & Casper Wijngaard
Limbo is a story of an amnesiac, inherently hazy. It’s also a detective story...in which a man who can’t figure out who he is seeks answers on behalf of others. There’s power in that, although the book isn’t all that interested in exploring it. Instead, this story ricochets between thrilling pivots, until Limbo becomes...well, something else, something different than you were expecting yet clearly telegraphed by the comic’s title. Most importantly though, Limbo is indie comics at its best, imaginative and unrestrained, using its creators’ interests in music and media and the occult to craft a story rich with aesthetic pleasures and suspense.
Set in the fictional city of Dedande (analogous to New Orleans), Limbo is pan-cultural, drawing from many mythos as it progresses (although it's most-rooted in voodoo). Familiar bits are brought together in interesting and unfamiliar ways as the creators use hard-boiled detective noir tropes to ground things. None of that would matter, however, if this story wasn’t so well told. Basically, Limbo is high concept, bordering at times on downright abstract, but it’s also an exercise in breakneck and successful plotting.
Watters voice is fantastic. In the tradition of Mike Mignola, he uses wry narration or blunt asides to let readers know, yeah, I’m in on the jokes, too. In one panel, the narrator explains how Sandy uses dance to contact the dead, and in the next he acknowledges Yeah, I know how that sounds. It’s a whole thing. Elsewhere, the hero tells a lecturing villain, You’re just monologuing now. No one likes a monologuer. It’s a time-tested writer’s trick, one I find endearing. Meanwhile, there’s a bit of Michael Oeming in Wijngaards art and a bit of Steve Lieber, both of which I mean as high compliments. Wijngaard’s work is so well-realized at times it transcends, stimulating other senses, specifically hearing. His use of colors is also vital to establishing mood.
It all adds up to a book I’d recommend to any and all fans of the comic medium. The complexity may be off-putting to some, but it’s a risk everyone should take. The reward for those who get into Limbo is massive.
Invasion From Planet Wrestletopia by Ed Kuehnel, Matt Entin, Dan Schkade, & Marissa Louise
Shifting gears, let’s look now at Invasion From Planet Wrestletopia, written by Ed Kuehnel and Matt Entin, art by Dan Schkade, and colors by Marissa Louise. Whereas the two previous books on our list were almost topographical pastiches, Invasion From Planet Wrestletopia lives within a niche: professional wrestling. It extends deeper into comic book-y territory, however, by also adding a sci-fi angle. This, simply put, makes for a hilarious comic. There’s an obvious love of professional wrestling, an appreciation of its spectacle and hammy insularity, and it’s put to good use, be it for jokes or for more subtle, character-drive moments.
There are essentially two plotlines at work in Invasion From Planet Wrestletopia’s first issue: one about a cocky (and, to be fair, probably mishandled) wrestler who tries to distance himself from a promoter (not for the first time), and another about the titular Planet of Wrestletopia, a planet upon which culture and society is shaped entirely by pro wrestling. They do, of course, stand to eventually meet. More importantly, though, this space stuff allows for so many great gags (for example, instead of referring to a monarch as your highness on Planet Wrestletopia it’s your championess). It’s all very clever and a whole lot of fun. If you’re a fan of pro wrestling (lapsed or current) there’s just so much to like about this comic.
See all our past months of new discoveries here. And check back to the site next week for our Best Debut Comics of September 2018.
Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.