November 17, 2009

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Elfworld Volume 1

Compiled by Jeffrey Brown
Edited by Francois Vigneault
Written and Illustrated by Various Artists, including Jeffrey Brown, Matt Wiegle, Liz Prince, and K. Thor Jensen
Family Style

I've spoken in the past of my love for anthologies, and here we have yet another example of a random library grab that had a few recognizable names and I figured would be worth a shot.

I've also spoken in the past about how anthologies can be a bit hit and miss. Unfortunately, for me, "Elfworld" falls a bit more on the miss side of that equation.

While there are a few entertaining pieces in "Elfworld," there is also quite a bit of artwork or storytelling that seems like it could have used a bit more time to simmer. I know that's the risk you run in reading a set of short works by independent creators, but at the same time, I can't help but think something was missing. Unfortunately, I'm just not sure what that is.

The good stories were fun to read. Matt Wiegle contributes a set of one-page gags featuring a drunken adventurer who manages to hack and slash even when dead drunk. He also submitted a second entry, with the help of Sean Collins. This time, a robotic monster attacks reptile creatures with fairly sophisticated technology. Can they stop him before he comes to claim the power of the throne? And just what is that robot made of, anyway? There's quite a bit of hack and slash action in this one, which fits the theme of the anthology quite well and helps to make it work better than most of the other stories.

I also liked Vigneault's contribution, a story of humans versus elves and the young man caught in between the conflict. Wordless, the artwork and the expressions on the character's faces carry the story from beginning to tragic ending. I kinda wish Vigneault had gone a different way to finish the story, though, as this ending seemed just a bit too pat for my taste.

K. Thor Jensen delivers a humourous take on the idea of a city that's too good to be true, but I couldn't help but wonder why Olive Oil the cleric was adventuring with Bluto the warrior and Popeye the elf. If that was intentional, it was a nice touch. If it wasn't, well, then, it stll made me giggle.

The final story was probably the best in the collection. Written and illustrated by Kazimir Strzepek, the protagonist is an arrogant compiler of mystical animals who often fudges the truth to make his editors happy. After flubbing things with a kobold, he has to face the evil basilik, who is not terribly fond of the likeness given to him. In the end, it's a dog creature's life in this entertaining and irreverent romp through some of my favorite mystical beasts and gives the collection a strong closing story.

Those five stories, however, are not really enough to make me recommend this anthology. The bulk of the stories range from just okay to things that didn't work for me at all. Liz Prince has a standard adventuring tale of sacrifice that's fine as far as it goes, but did not do anything interesting. The Turner brothers give us hungry monsters that eat everything they see, which is pleasant enough but goes for one too many bathroom jokes for me to really like it. Jeffrey Brown, who came up with the concept, opens with a 2-page wordplay gag that makes me wish he'd written more for the anthology.

Some of the stories just weren't written for me, and that's okay. I didn't care for the extended romp of drunken elves helping a wizard disguised as a park ranger. The music jokes are almost as old as the music they referenced. A drunken elf that wants to be either an adventurer or a writer had the chance to be a good parody of an underground artist, but misses the mark somewhere along the line. Dave McKenna's tale of a naked woman's confusing adventures through a changing landscape was very well drawn, but I just wasn't able to connect with the plot. I did appreciate the pulpy feel of the story, however. Some of the panels would have made perfect cover art for a collection of purple prose.

In a few cases, the art was just barely above stick figure level, which isn't a problem for me if the story is interesting. Unfortunately, those entries neither had interesting artwork nor a cool story to tell, at least to me. They also drag down the project as a whole, and would make this completely unreadable for someone who's not already a fan of mini-comics and extremely small press work.

I'm generally pretty forgiving of anthologies but in this case, I think the concept was better than the final execution. Elfworld is worth a look if you happen to find it, but probably not worth seeking it out unless you really like one of the creators involved. Overall, it was an interesting place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. I'd be interested in seeing how volume two plays out, if it ever comes to pass. For now, though, I'll be happy to let this one go back to the library.