July 30, 2014

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Cartozia Tales 3

Written and Illustrated by Sarah Becan, Lucy Bellwood, Kevin Cannon, Isaac Cates, Shawn Cheng, Evan Dahm, Victoria Grace Elliott, Becky Gautreav, Carol Lay, Caitlin Lehman, Lupi McGinty, Tom Motley, Jen Vaughn, and Mike Wenthe
Self-Published

The Cackle of Creators is back for more imaginative adventures in the world of Cartozia, once against shifting regions and continuing where their peers left off as this all-ages mini-comic keeps up the pace of strong, innovative storytelling.

This one has been out for awhile, but when you move across the country, it takes a bit of time to get organized, and I wanted to review this before getting to issue 4 (and the upcoming issue or issues that will undoubtedly be an SPX Spotlight). It's always a pleasure to read this series, because there's really nothing else like that I'm aware of being published right now.

For those who are new to the idea, Cartozia Tales is a shared universe anthology, where a set of core creators collaborate with a rotating set of guest stars (such as James Kochalka, in issue two) to being an entire world to life, based loosely on the idea of maps, cartography, and characters exploring the world around them. Because the creators themselves rotate, taking on different parts of the map each issue, we get to see a wide range of impressions--and how one creator plays with characters recently developed by another.

Lucy Bellwood Art from Cartozia Tales 3
It's an amazing idea, and the execution is even better, thanks to having a core group of creators who complement each other stylistically without being copies or clones. Some work in thin lines while others use heavy blacks, for example, but at no point are the differences so marked as to jar the reader.

What really amazes me are some of the innovations that show up in this mini-comic. For example, publisher Isaac Cates has a one-page story that's presented in the form of a board game, complete with taking the reader back and forth across the game board until they reach the end, moving forwards and backwards across the spaces, which mix text with illustrations based on the story. It's such a great idea!

That's not the only non-traditional story here, though, as we also have a maze created by Tom Motley that takes Reshii across the China Labyrinth, in which the maze borders are shrubbery, rubble, fence posts, and animal bones, among other little touches. Meanwhile, the characters encounter things like soldier figures "trained to shoot" or a singer who isn't dangerous--he just indicates you're lost. The best joke, however, is a visual pun I won't spoil.

A panel from Mike Wenthe and Isaac Cates from Cartozia Tales 3
The other highlight of this issue was Kevin Cannon's work with Taco and Wick. Cannon is one of my favorite creators I haven't talked enough about on PP, and his two books (Far Arden and Crater XV) are highly recommended. Here he brings his "bounce the characters out at the reader" style with a tale of Pirates who are after a treasure belonging to the prince that hates the pair of heroes. Cannon drawing Pirates is just a lot of fun, but what's really amazing is the splash page ending, where we learn that there's a reason why Wick was considered so expendable. It's a great moment that's going to be a lot of fun for the the next creators to play with (looks like Cates and Wenthe, based on the map, but we'll see).

Of course, pretty much all of Cartozia is a highlight. "Kevin's Catch" by Lucy Bellwood is a playful short that lets her show off her love of drawing things relating to the sea, as a pair of fishermen wait for a big catch for that never shows up. There's some great comic timing and use of lettering-as-art, ending in a well-placed droll finishing comment. Evan Dahm provides a bit of mystery with "I Don't Remember" following up on an idea by Cates. A land where the fog makes you forget everything, a young man heads to find the Cleansing Beast, a creature standing on a stool that looks like a snub-nosed dog with an arched back and tail that swirl into mist.

Carol Lay's story in Cartozia Tales 3
The idea of puzzles, mystery, and being lost crops up elsewhere, too, as Jen Vaughn's section leads to one family member found while others may be lost for good. Her layouts here do a lot with patterns and shapes, ending in a six-panel page that resembles half a wagon wheel. Carol Lay does a one-page comic about how a map might not be a map after all, and of course we have the ongoing quests of the Otter Girl and Sylvia.

One final comic I want to mention here is Shawn Cheng's "Hubert the Humorist Meets Conrad the Comedian" which plays to two of my favorite things, wordplay and physical comedy. Hubert, a Doctor, spars with Conrad, a jokester, due to the term humorist. Dressed in outrageous clothing that's far more ornamental than needed, the pair compete for the attention of a noble, who finds their inevitable physical confrontation extremely amusing. The looks on the characters' faces are perfect and despite not using a lot of backgrounds, Cheng creates an entertaining short in just a few pages, something all of the Cartozians are extremely good at doing.

The thing that's so great about Cartozia Tales is that it's the best kind of all-ages book. I can linger on the artistic details or punning wordplay, but a kid may just find it fun to run their finger across Motley's maze. Or perhaps we'll both enjoy the same physical joke. It doesn't matter, because this is a work that doesn't try to talk down to its age group. There's nothing cutesy in Cartozia--it's s smart book by smart people, writing for a smart audience of anyone who encounters the comic.

Cartozia Tales is available by subscription. You can find out more about it here at their website. I highly recommend you join in, whether you are an adult or a parent looking for a quality comic to read with your kids.