by Kevin Czap
Learning about the all the different comics scenes that inhabit the various cities of the world has become an increasingly important pursuit of mine over the past year. Inevitably, this has led to learn a lot more about Canadian geography than I had retained from high school, and now I have a much clearer idea of where each province is in relation to Cleveland (for future travel purposes). Anyway, today I’m taking a closer look at a portion of the Vancouver scene, in beautiful British Columbia, Canada (I have that phrase ingrained into my mind from the little bit of Nardwuar I’ve listened to). The occasion is the up-coming release of Cloudscape Comics‘ newest anthology, 21 Journeys. I was graciously let in on the book for review purposes, so here we go.
From my understanding (I met a few of these cats at TCAF), Cloudscape is a collective of sorts that operates out of Vancouver, having regular comics-related get-togethers and generating a steady stream of anthologies. This is the first one I’ve ever come across and read, and aside from a few other things I’ve seen by a few of the contributors, I’m coming in mostly fresh to the whole experience.
21 Journeys is a bit of a mixed bag, some work better than others to varying degrees. They’re all loosely based around the core theme of travel – some strips use that as an excuse to show exotic international locals, whereas a few only touch on the theme peripherally. I’m going to highlight the pieces that stood out to me, in the order they appear in the antho.
Real-life sweethearts Anise Shaw and Wei Li team up for this sometimes-impressionistic short about a teacher facing life after being diagnosed with Cotard’s Syndrome. This detail was particularly interesting to me, having learned of it fairly recently (The name of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Synecdoche, New York is a reference to the condition). People who suffer this delusion feel as though they are dead, as is the case of this comic’s focal point. In this case, the travel seems to be back to the land of the living, but though her physical body is there, we’re left with the impression that she’ll never be there again mentally. Nice painted colors and a clever touch of using a thick black outline to separate Ms. Little (our teacher) from the living. It’s a shame that the lettering is handled so impersonally – computer text and transparent vector word balloons laid over the drawings. As with a lot of the comics in this anthology, I would have loved to see the text done by hand.
I really like Miriam Libicki‘s watercolor paintings, especially the extra-big eyes. In this (presumably) auto-bio strip, a young Libicki tries to run away from home after being fed up with her parents’ insufferable friends coming over for shabbat. Although she gets further than a lot of us do when we run away from home, she gives up before the sun sets. Nice an contemplative.
The main standout of the book, Edison Yan‘s “The Final Stretch” is a beautifully rendered short that sets the lifespan of salmon against that of a human boy. We see both from inception to adulthood, cast in a perfectly subdued palette. As much as I respond to the Clasky-Csupo like cartooning, I’m much more drawn to the fish side-story. Although the human lives longer, we leave him trapped as a burger boy at a fast food chain while the salmon are the real stars of the show. Really nice work here.
Sydney More is a more-than-capable cartoonist and the strength of this piece is her writing restraint. She never has to say much about the “Terrible Things” of the title (casualties of the daily grind), she just presents the evidence and lets gossip and news fill in the rest. The use of the cab driver is a nice refrain that allows us to imagine beyond the few pages we have here. Always terrible things, over and over. Comics nerd notes: notice how she handles the “ding” of the elevator. Lighter and harder to read to signify when the sound is fainter. I love that kind of stuff.
I really liked this strip by Colleen MacIsaac about the much slept-on deep-sea exploration of the gulfstream in 1969. The colors in the comic are gorgeous, with sparse layouts that never feel empty. By the end we’re brought to the present day where the retired vessel, the Ben Franklin, rests in a Vancouver museum, potentially answering the question of what first piqued MacIsaac’s interest in this subject.
This comic by Scot Ritchie is loose and airy, reminiscent of newspaper strips like Rhymes with Orange or something. Usually this style doesn’t stick with me that much, but for some reason is stood out. Perhaps in a book filled with a lot of “hard drawing,” it’s a nice breath of air to have a strip with this.
This comic in general is ok, but I really love this first page by Cloudscape president Jeff Ellis.
A really interesting WWII strip by mini-comic veteran Colin Upton. It concerns two top German officers (one a legendary Nazi war hero!) taking an idealistic Hitler Youth boy along with them to enemy lines to surrender at the end of the war.
And finally, there’s an extra special surprise for comics fans in the back – a one pager from Jordyn Bochon! Love it.
So there you go. As with many anthologies, not everything will make you gasp out loud in wonder, but there’s a whole lot of material in this big book. As I demonstrated above, a whole lot to like, maybe even love, so go buy your copy now! A fine addition to any bookshelf.
Cover artwork by Steve Rolston. All other images by the artist(s) identified in the accompanying paragraphs