July 20, 2012

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Fusion Elementary

Written by Various, including Meredith Gran, Katie Cook, Ryan North, Jeffrey Brown, and Ryan Estrada
Illustrated by Nam Dong Yoon
The Whole Story

In the grand tradition of jam comics, publisher Ryan Estrada brings a wacky story created by a Korean comics artist to print in English, but instead of using direct translation, a host of Western comics creators get to provide the dialogue.  The story of some school kids who have fantastic adventures has never quite read like this before!

I really love the concept here, as it reminds me of playing an improv game on paper.  Each author brings their own unique style to the work, operating in separate sections that only have the most tenuous of links (mostly shared characters as drawn by Yoon).  There's no attempt to unify the jokes, meaning that North can riff on things ala his Dinosaur comics side-comments and Jeffrey Brown can operate on subtle sarcasm, just like he does in Incredible Change-Bots.

The standout in this book by far is Katie Cook's section, which I mentioned when I covered the Whole Story project last week.  Cook is probably best known for her all-ages work, such as contributions to Fraggle Rock or her webcomic, Gronk.  If you follow her on Twitter, however, you know that she has a very impish side that can zing one-liners with the best of them, and that's clear as day in "I Hope This Isn't What Death is Like" where the girl in the story insults her magical guardian every step of the way.

Anyone who is a fan of snarking humor will definitely get a kick out of Fusion Elementary, as it's definitely the  main element used by all of the writers.  They talk about everything from the visuals to school angst and use references that most webcomics-savvy or geek-savvy readers (who let's face it are the target audience here) will get immediately.  One of the cool things is that despite being heavy on the wisecracks, it feels extremely good natured in tone.  No one is here to be an insult comic so much as making the kind of quips you'd dash off to a friend.  It's fun and everyone gets to laugh together, rather than at someones's expense, even at the point of the sharpest barbs like those of Cook.

With all the fun of the writing, it could be easy to overlook Yoon's art, which would be a big mistake.  Even without the comical dialogue, this book would be a great treat for the eye.  Yoon's characters are small, not unlike Tezuka's, though stylistically they are more realistic.  His panels are packed with tons of action and backgrounds, filling each rounded box with as many details as possible.  A science classroom panel has more details in it, from posters to what appears to be organs stored in a jar(!), than you might find in an entire page of other Eastern illustrators.  Indoors or outdoors, Yoon's characters inhabit a world full of things, colored brightly and in every shade of the rainbow.

I was also impressed with the range of looks on the faces of Yoon's protagonists, even though he uses exaggeration sparingly.  Eyes roll, eyebrows lift, mouths contort, all in ways that help the writers key in on how best to use the characters involved.  Given how intricate the rest of the art was, however, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by the fact that Yoon took care in drawing his humans and creatures as well.

Fusion Elementary is an awesome book, but it's only available for a few more days.  After July 23rd, getting a copy of the book may be impossible.  You should definitely get this for your digital device of choice ASAP if you are a lover of fun or any one of the cartoonists involved.  Best of all, you can even name your price!  This book and six others are available at The Whole Story.