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Small Pressed: Myriad #1-3

While I usually lend my reviews to the topic of graphic novels, I’ve decided to expand my repertoire and review some single issues from a comic company that is a part of the smallest part of our comic book press.

Approbation is a company with a self-proclaimed mission to “bring comics to a wider, more mainstream audience,” and to “shatter old stereotypes of what this industry is about and can offer to the rest of the world.” At current, they publish three distinct lines of comics: the gothic horror based Vampire Universe comics, the Alpha Universe which features superheroics, and the single title Myriad. This strive to bring more diversity to comics seems to be the impetus for Myriad, which is an anthology title carrying five separate stories, each story getting a few pages of plot each issue. Anthology comics are hard to pull off, as the shortness of story-space and the jumping from one story to the next sometimes becomes tiresome, so immediately Approbation should score some points for the attempt.

The collection of stories here does actually cover a swath of genres; “Chi Sai” is an urban flavored tale of vigilantism, while “Lineage” is a straight science fiction tale with flecks of fantasy genre. “Discount Stories” is a day-in-the-life series that covers the malaise of a group of retail workers. “The Adventures of the Molly Be Damned” is a high-seas pirate adventure, as the name might suggest, and “Frail,” by far the most intriguing series, is something that almost escapes explanation, mixing non-traditional storytelling techniques with excellent elements of thriller/horror writing.

While the mix of genres makes the range of appeal for the book grow extensively, the quality of the stories also runs the gamut from very good to utterly unreadable, whether being the fault of poor writing or artwork that needs extensive polishing.

The worst of the bunch are actually the genres that usually sell well in the comic book market: “Lineage” with its sci-fi bent, and the “…Molly Be Damned.” “Lineage” suffers from a somewhat boring premise (the future world of technology is invaded by elves and a magic forest) and poor concept plotting by creators Jay Jacobs and Chris Tsuda. The dialogue the characters spout is stale and the writers try to insert sarcasm and banter through one of their main characters to little effect.

In addition, the artwork by Tsuda is in need of some anatomical work. There are times when their character’s lower extremities shrink ridiculously in proportion to the upper torso, not to mention the actions and movement of the characters are drawn distorted.

The “Molly Be Damned” is actually much worse. Writer Richard Nelson concocts a nearly incomprehensible pirate story that jumps around and leaves the reader with no characters to focus on, no plot points to anchor to, and no real frame with which to understand the story. We jump forward and back in time within the space of a panel, which does not help the confusion, and bad dialoguing and a lack of personality make his characters cookie-cutter. The artwork here is dreadful. Eli Ivory and Brian Laframboise seem at a loss when drawing the human body and its dimensions, I think because they are trying to adopt some type of signature style. They do not ink the work well enough to add definition or depth to the characters, nor do they provide detailed backgrounds. The end result is some thin lined characters occasionally covered with a field of black, with stark and bare backgrounds, making the comic as visually unappealing as one could make it.

Of better quality are “Chi Sai” and “Discount Stories.” Bart Thompson writes a somewhat brief but intriguing story about revenge at the street level, with a Kevlar covered vigilante with connections to organized crime. There are times when his dialogue is forced, mostly in the scenes where a random thug might be speaking, and the story is not anything the casual comic reader hasn’t seen before, but the silence of his main character and her origin makes her more captivating to the reader.

Of real note though is the artwork by Steve Fox; his panel work is all done in un-inked pencil. Fox seems to use several lead weights to shade in and texturize his environments and characters, and it’s very eye-catching. Fox does tend to overdo the facial shading, at times making his thugs look like hairy dog-men, but the style really does work well with Thompson’s story. Fox’s artwork seems to improve each issue, getting very good in the third issue, during a family moment involving the main character where he uses it to intone some somberness and muted threat.

“Discount Stories” is the story that looks like it’s from the small press. Thin, possibly only pencil done over with pen, shaky lines drawing characters that aren’t really easy to look at, but manage to be usable to tell a story. Writer John P. Ward takes each issue and tells the story of a different employee of the retail store they inhabit. Ward makes up for the somewhat, and seemingly purposeful, grotesque art of Steve Doty, with a very character driven short story each issue, whether it be the old and disgruntled greeter, the pregnant cashier, or the two pleasant women who secretly hate each other. Ward knows how to pace his story and to build it slow, even with the limited amount of space he’s allotted, making the reader care about both plot and character. And even though Doty’s art is shaky, the uncertain quality of it seems to echo the point of themes of the series.

The best story in the three issues I perused is by far “Frail” by writer Christopher J. O’Bryant and artists Jason Hazel, Jason Sandman and Brian Laframboise (Issues 1-2), as well as Rich Molinelli and Joseph Armour (Issue 3). O’Bryant begins in issue one with a date between two people that ends horrifically, which is the first domino to fall in his plotted series. Each issue after the first has everything to do with the issue before it, but not because there is an overarching plot that links them. Instead, the writer has found a way to string together disparate stories in such a way that they both depend on each other, while being able to read them separately. He manages to throw twists into his plot that are not expected and surprising every time, which is odd because it usually ends up being the same action, only come at from an entirely different direction.

It’s very well written, and the interaction between the characters is believable. That might be O’Bryant’s best feature: that he writes his characters invariably realistically, making them human to the reader in a matter of pages. The artwork works very well with the story, though the constant changing of the artistic staff might need to be addressed. Issue 2, from Hazel and Laframboise was especially good, as the artists helped to make a simple psychiatric session seem utterly chilling when paired with O’Bryant’s skillful word choice.

Myriad is an anthology that covers both the bad and the good of comics. Unskilled artwork and the inability to create believable characters grace its pages, while at the same time, work of great artistic caliber and a keen knowledge of story construction is also present. It’s a comic that definitely lives up to its name. Whether or not it fulfills the companies mission statement is something best left to future debate.

If you would like to see more of Myriad or to check out other titles from this company, go to Approbation Comics Online.

Robert Sparling

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