August 20, 2014

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Faction 2 Anthology

Written and Illustrated by Allan Xia, Cory Mathis, Damon Keen, Sheehan Brothers,Rachel Royale, Michael Multipola, Ned Wenlock, James Squires, Adrian Kinnaird, and Mukpuddy
Edited by Damon Keen and Amie Maxwell
Published by 3 Bad Monkeys

The second anthology of New Zealand comics creators finds a few returning voices while new ones are added, as the production values, quality control, and intriguing ideas continue to make this a very fun book to read.

A few days ago, I reviewed the first Faction anthology, which I thought was incredibly well done, and scratched an itch that's very strong for me--finding new creators, especially ones from other countries. Sometimes things can be good at first and then peter out, quality-wise. We see it with comic series, TV shows, and especially in anthology series.

That's not the case with Faction, which starts off with a bang, providing, bold, open panels that look like they've been digitally treated to give them a slightly surreal effect. In the wrong situation, that makes for terrible comic art, but here Allan Xia makes it work, showing us a man trying to revive a women he cares deeply for after travelling across a world that looks burnt out by some unnamed tragedy. "Awakening" is completely wordless but packs a strong emotional punch, knowing just when to pull the reader closer to the protagonist and when to stay distant. It's a haunting story, and the dark shading choices enhance what we do get to see. Usually I'm not a big fan of this art style, but Xia's use of it shows that computers are a tool, and when used correctly, make great comics, just like any other tool.*

Art by Damon Keen
"Saurian Era" by Cory Mathis couldn't be more different, as it features bright colors, a main character who banters while riding a dinosaur, and tight panels that display pieces of the action while a larger scene gives an overall picture. It's a fun romp that includes pterodactyl messengers and a playful vibe that contrasts nicely with "Awakening" and shows the reader right away that the stories in Faction are designed to show as much variety as possible.

As with the first issue, I enjoyed quite a bit of the comics that made up the anthology. Here are a few of the highlights:


  • Damon Keen, the series editor, once again contributes arguably my favorite story, this time a sci-fi horror short that also takes space as its theme. In "Ectype," there's technology that allows you to send yourself out to other worlds to explore, only to "die" when no longer needed. Sounds great, right? What happens when it goes wrong and tries to replicate without the proper ingredients? The horror of the situation is a slow build, timed to go from "not good" to "oh shit" at just the right moment. Keen uses a burnt yellow to offset his heavy blacks, and the unease generated by the shade really makes the linework pop. The style again reminds me of how Mignola works with black/red on Hellboy. It's an amazing short story, with an ending that's as inevitable as it is unexpected.
  • The Sheehan Brothers begin the first part of a story in "A Day at the Races" in which the contestants and their differences are profiled, ranging from a religious mystic to a Paris Hilton-type, and even a robotic creation from an enigmatic scientist. Their reasons for racing make sense given their personalities, and while the story itself is very incomplete, it's an intriguing start. The artwork on this one features thin but intricately detailed lines working in a black and white format. There's a lot to look at, and demands the reader take some time to pick up on its subtleties.
  • "Done to Death" is a story of a twisting narrative, as a man in love with a dangerous woman tries to justify his feelings by giving her motives that are better than reality--if we can believe anything we're told at all. Michael Multipola changes styles as the story shifts across lies and confessions, going from a cartoony beginning to gritty street hero to a sinister, almost overwhelming darkness. It's great craft work, allowing the form of the visuals to adjust and it's great to see that done so well by the same artist within one extremely short story.
  • "Left Behind" isn't the comic adaptation of the evangelical books but instead it's an echo of Keen's story from the first issue. This time, a bunch of astronauts miss their ride, and well, let's just say the bus service is extremely limited. In just two pages, James Squires gets in his joke, which works because of the visual of seeing so many people who are utterly screwed. It's a bit like something Michael DeForge might so, and the linework shares that tone as well.

Art by the Sheehan Brothers
With this second issue, Faction reminds me a lot of another anthology I really loved, Flight. That, too, had high production values, strong, varied art, and creators who rotated in and out of the issues. It's rare when an anthology is good enough to be enjoyed from start to finish, but Faction fits the bill, and is highly recommended.

You can learn more about Faction at its website.

*I know I'm making an assumption about Xia's craft here, but I'm pretty sure that's digital-based art.