December 3, 2013

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Cartozia Tales 2

Written and Illustrated by Sarah Becan, Beckie Gautreau, Adam Koford, James Kochalka, Shawn Cheng, Lucy Bellwood, Jen Vaughn, Tom Motley, Eric Orchard, Mike Wenthe, Isaac Cates, Caitlin Lehman, and Lupi McGinty
Self-Published

The world of Cartozia returns with new stories set in the collective world, with creators changing areas on the map and guest work from James Kochalka and Adam Koford. Some stories continue while others are begun as we see different looks and perspectives on the various corners of the universe laid out in this very solid follow-up effort that makes me excited for the rest of the series.

For those unfamiliar, Cartozia Tales is a 10-issue series with the very ambitious goal of being a collaborative world between a series of core authors and guest creators every issue. It's an anthology, but instead of each person working in a vacuum, they are moving across the map of the world, meaning that stories left unfinished in one issue will have a different look and perspective in the next, as we find in this issue. On top of that goal, Cartozia is written as an all-ages book, so the creators have to be mindful of their tone and language.

It's a tall order, but the first issue pulled it off perfectly, and the second issue shows no signs of faltering. From the opening story, which features Upside-Town (hinted at in issue 1) and secrets known only to those who are native to its unusual soil to Taco and Wick evading their Prince and going off on adventures while riding a giant bug creature, Cartozia continues to tell short, engaging stories that are appropriate for anyone able to read, but can be appreciated by adults as well. At no point do any of the creators talk down to the reader or put together childish plots to "dumb down" the material.

These are just good stories, told by some incredibly talented individuals, which is the best kind of anthology comic there is.

I'm really impressed by how well the guest creators are integrated into Cartozia. While it's a bit strange seeing Adam Koford draw things that aren't hobo cats, his story Initiation, is a perfect one-and-done story about growing up and moving into a new role. A child must face its fears when gathering sand gems in the land of the Dune Men. Using simple backgrounds and expressive main characters, along with a great sense of how to use the page turn as a storytelling device, Koford's tale has a sweet ending that makes me wish he'd do a bit more long-form comics work.

Running immediately after Koford's entry is that of Kochalka, and it's exactly what you'd expect from him. The Wizard makes pithy remarks while his apprentice takes it all in, as they look for what is left in an observatory at the top of a mountain and must outwit a sad-faced robot. This one doesn't break any new ground, but seeing Kochalka play with Cartozia's toys is a lot of fun.

This issue has a loose theme of Mask Bears, with them showing up across several stories, starting with Shawn Cheng's. He brings back Lila and the dang beetles from issue one, but it looks like they may not be able to help, creating a plot to be followed-up by another creator in a future issue. His thin, exacting lines are quite a change from the thick ones used by Koford and Kochalka, which makes his Mask Bear on the first page of the story very striking in its individual lines for fur.

Lucy Bellwood is next to use the Mask Bear, though in this case everything is not as it seems. Cows with holes in their backs and a mysterious shepherdess romp across Bellwood's pages, which show a different sort of detail in their lines from Cheng. Hers work more towards guiding the reader to specific vantage points, where expressive eyes or key details await them.

The last Mask Bear story comes from the team of Mike Wenthe and Isaac Cates, as they keep Sylvia's story going. She meets a magical bird that's not very good at magic, and they continue their journey, albeit slightly distrustful of each other other. Saved by a third traveler, the trio now have the power of a Mask Bear mask--but what to do with it? That will wait until the next issue. This was fun, watching them echo Jen Vaughn's art without copying her style completely.

Speaking of Vaughn, her role this time is keeping the cave explorers on their adventure, talking to a marshman who's been relieved of its body. Her story is tragic, but perhaps they can help. With her use of shading and heavy inks, Vaughn is a good fit for a story told in a cave as her angular lines push the plot along, even as she shows a very strong sense of dialogue with lines like, "I never turn down a dare."

Tom Motley, working with characters created by several of his peers on this project, designs and awesome scavenging field that forms the backdrop for a forced partnership. A crow and a Hatted Man are on a quest that looks to be full of deceit, as any good coerced cooperation should be. The two main characters are bold and dynamic, even while Motley gives us a few things to pick up in the background, just as they're being discovered by searchers all across the page.

It's really fun to see Cartrozia working this well at its premise. While holding up overall as a consistent world with continuing storylines (thanks to having a spectacular set of talented artists), there's just enough difference in styles to keep the material varied, especially for the younger readers who may not have the patience of their older peers.

Funny, a touch dangerous here and there, and incredibly well-designed (these are minis designed to last), Cartozia Tales #2 is just as highly recommended as the first issue. I cannot wait to see what issue three brings!