Drawing From Below is a space where we shine a light on the non “mainstream” work that doesn’t get shipped by Diamond but still deserves your attention. They may be the next Brian Michael Bendis, Jeff Lemire or Brandon Graham. They may be the next cult leader of the comics underground. They may not be any of these thing. But they are producing high quality work and are doing it without the help of a traditional comics publisher.
This edition is about Fata Morgana by Jon Vermilyea, Black Sheep by Diego Tripodi and City of Walls by Shuan Noel and A.K Lovelace
For this edition of Drawing from Below I’m going to focus on a few books that you should own. There’s too many great underground comics out there now to confine my thoughts to just one. Here’s three of the best that I’ve read over the last month.
Fata Morgana by Jon Vermlyea
Koyama Press is fast becoming one of my favorite comic publishers for the high quality of material and it’s staple of cutting edge comic artist. If Image, Vertigo and Top Shelf are where creators start before they go to the big two then Koyama is the type of place that creators work before they go to those companies or do their work unfettered if they are too left of center for any of the big indie publishers companies. I’m not sure what side Jon Vermilyea falls on but I do know he is of extraordinary talent. Fata Morgana is Vermilyea taking on the type of big time Kirbyesque world building that Paul Pope does in Battling Boy and trades in any pretense of a superhero narrative for a psychedelic punk rock fever dream of a small child. The comic is made up of dense, bright and colorful full page spreads of a surreal journey through a child’s imagination. This is visual story telling in it’s purest form. It’s lack of any written narrative is made up for in spades with the brilliant narrative that is created from Vermilyea’s detailed illustrations and vibrant colors. Fata Morgana is a borderline perfect execution of the artists vision and it’s another fantastic addition to Koyamas growing catalog.
Writer/Artist Diego Tripodi creates a mini Samurai epic about the price of our actions, the hubris of pride and the meaning of legacy within the setting of feudal Japan. In some ways Black Sheep follows a lot of the same tropes that samurai fiction has been pumping out since Lone Wolf and Cub but it also twists that narrative to ask what would have happened had the Lone Wolf walked away with his wife and child in tow and tried to live a quite life in solitude. You can never escape your past and Tripodi’s non linear story telling tell’s of broken friendships, hard decisions and how history can repeat itself until you make the decision to break that cycle. Tripodi’s black and white illustrations are the perfect mix of rough interior’s with precision detail and art that accentuates the narration by moving the story forward and showing fluid movement in Black Sheep fantastic action sequences. Black Sheep is a one shot with the possibility of more story down the road. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with Tripodi’s Black Sheep. You’ll be on the ground floor of what could be an amazing comic book universe that’s as fresh as it is familiar.
I’ll never forget the first time I read City of Walls on the train ride back from New York Comic Con. Sitting next to me was a young child with his parents. Old enough to be conscious of the world around him but still too young to speak. He was mesmerized by City of Walls. Now I’m thinking I know how to really blow this kids mind and I whip out Matteo Scalera’s Banana Milkshake a collection of the about to blow the fuck up artists drawing of every popular superhero you can imagine from DC and Marvel. Kid loses interest pretty quick and I go back to City of Walls As soon as I begin reading it little homie is glued to the page with me. We’re always asking “how do we get kids back into comics” as if there’s some magic code that will appear out of thin air if we complain enough. Well I think Shaun Noel and A.K Lovelace have a pretty simple answer and I also think it’s the right one; Create a story that children can relate to in a world that is new and interesting without talking down the audience and make it as high quality as possible. City of Walls is a comic about three kids stuck inside a closed city in China run by a ruthless criminal underworld and the children’s efforts to escape that. It’s a brilliant mediation on the life of young kids being forced to cope with adult problems and responsibilities. Art wise Lovelace work leans towards Manga mixed with The Boondocks animated series and his interiors are a master class on drawing complex interconnected cityscapes. City of Walls ends up being a heartfelt and touching examination of a childhood spent clinging to your innocence while searching for an outlet to escape the pain you feel constantly creeping in your psyche in a way that is deceptively simple and highly effective. This is the type of all ages book that could change a child’s life and these guys should be writing Spiderman.
You can get City of Walls and learn more about Shaun Noel and A.K Lovelace here