By Zack Quaintance — I read the first two issues of White Ash—a Kickstarter-funded comic written by Charlie Stickney with art by Conor Hughes and colors by Fin Cramb—around this time last year. I was intrigued by the concept. On its surface, the book right away deals with a withering coal mining town, named White Ash, thus the title. Its first over-sized issue follows a native son of that town as he tries to say one final goodbye to the place he grew up before heading to college. He goes around town, bidding farewell to the important people in his life, noting all the things he won’t miss, and working to collect on some a debt for yard work he did for the one wealthy family in town.
Complications, of course, arise as he does this, complications that will ultimately lead to our hero staying in White Ash. That’s not a spoiler, I mean, White Ash is, after all, this comic’s name. It was never going to be about our hero leaving White Ash and then having a zany time at college. That’s the mechanics of the first issue’s plot.
The hook to the first issue, and, indeed, to the series overall, is that the story also blends high fantasy elements into its narrative, elements that I won’t spoil here. Those first issues were, to be sure, well-done, with Stickney crafting a polished script that Hughes renders kinetically on the page, creating a story that never drags and often hums right along at a rapid pace, with a chuckle here and there along the way. They’re fun and engrossing comics, no question.
Those first two issues that I read last year were put out through a successful Kickstarter, made possible (in my estimation) by Stickeny’s savvy with the platform as well as his enthusiasm for promoting his book both online and off. Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was listening to John Siuntres excellent Word Balloon podcast (as I’m wont to do), and the guest was veteran comics creator Karl Kesel, who was on to promote a Kickstarter project of his own (it’s called Section Zero 1959...check back here for a review next week!).
In discussing the high quality of comicbook projects on Kickstarter these days, Kesel cites my old favorite White Ash. Days later, I’d procured the third and fourth issues, and also learned that the team has a forthcoming hardcover with the entire story to date (on Kickstarter now). In diving into these comics, I was happy to see that not only was White Ash as strong as I remembered it being, but that artist Hughes in particular had gotten even better. Indeed, his work in the third and fourth issues of White Ash really shows a lot of growth and I especially enjoyed the increasingly fantastical action sequences he’s now being asked to draw, all of it of course excellently complimented by Cramb’s colors.
Stickney’s scripting, meanwhile, seems determined to keep pace with his collaborator’s growing talents, providing increasingly complex action sequences to draw as the book moves further into the twists and turns of its plot. In White Ash #4 especially, Stickney has moved from patiently taking his audience into a new world with new fantasy rules and laws, to really putting his characters through a series of challenges made all the more difficult by foreshadowed surprises. What’s also interesting to me in this first volume is the balance the creators strike between introducing readers to the status quo and putting pieces in place that seem likely to be there in the service of the long haul.
White Ash is, quite simply, a story that’s built to last, to run for as many installments as its fans demand. Also, I could be way off on this last point, but my sense is that developing the book at a patient pace through Kickstarter has really given the entire creative team a chance to grow with their story, to really figure out what sort of story is demanding to be told in real time as they hone the skills needed to tell it. In many ways, White Ash is the story of a young man determined to do things his own way within his own world, the small town and magical lineage that he was given at birth. That could be the story of this comic as well. As Kesel pointed out on Word Balloon, this is a really fantastic comic calling out to be read by a wider audience, and its development over the course of its first four issues is a veritable testament to the benefits of going the Kickstarter comic route.
White Ash, Vol. 1
Writer: Charlie Stickney
Artist: Conor Hughes
Colorist: Fin Cramb
Release Date: July 2019
Kickstarter: Click here!
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.