Last weekend I went to the New York Comic-Con, which has been my go-to replacement for the insanity of San Diego for the past couple of years (although I might try to go to San Diego next year). This time around, instead of focusing on buying a bunch of trade paperbacks and graphic novels that I could easily get from Amazon for around the same price from the comfort of my own home, I made sure to spend a few hours wandering the small press and artist's alley areas, picking up comics that caught my interest thanks to eye-catching art or intriguing premises. Obviously a lot of these turn out to be crappy, but I think it's better to be a little adventurous at a convention and spend a few dollars on something completely new rather than (or at least in addition to) just buying back issues of the same old mainstream superhero stuff. So here's the first part of my look at the stuff I bought, plus some random free preview issues that were literally thrust into my hands. Part two coming when I have some more time.
Big Bone Studios) This free preview book contains just the first eight pages of the forthcoming American Corpse series, about an American soldier in Vietnam who dies and is resurrected 40 years later as a member of the undead. Or at least that's what the description on the back says; the actual timeline of the story was extremely confusing. I found House's art too cartoony for the grim subject matter, although it would probably work on a more kid-friendly book, and while it's too early to tell in eight pages how the concept will play out, the dialogue was pretty stilted and awkward (and, as is often the case in indie comics, in need of a copy editor). Based on this sample, I wouldn't bother picking up a whole issue.
David Habben, Draw More Inc.) This is probably the best book I've read so far, and certainly the most visually appealing. Habben's art is stunning, with simple, bold lines, a muted color palette that uses splashes of red to accent danger and the supernatural, and creative panel structure that mirrors the chaos of Philippe's story. That story, a sort of fable about a woman who inspires suicidal/homicidal devotion in nearly everyone she meets, is sometimes a little rushed and hard to follow, but the art easily makes up for the shortcomings. The combination of the surreal images and the pulpy dialogue gives the whole thing a very creepy edge. I'd be curious to see what else Philippe can do, but I'm much more eager to check out more of Habben's sequential work.
Ryan Kelly, self-published) Kelly is a penciller and inker known mainly for his work on Vertigo books like Lucifer, American Virgin, DMZ and most recently The Unwritten, among others. The Mutant Punks is a sort of playful, goofy lark about a team of super-powered nihilists, who certainly aren't heroes but aren't exactly villains, either, since their goal seems to be to wreak havoc just to keep from being bored. Kelly designs a bunch of appealingly silly characters based on typical superhero types, and his writing is clever and snappy. There isn't much here beyond random mayhem, so I don't know if the Mutant Punks could really sustain a whole series. But for a one-off (although it ends saying "To be continued"), it's pretty fun reading.
Strongarm Labs) Strongarm had a bunch of different books at their booth, and I asked Girdich to recommend one for me. Based on what I said I was interested in, he suggested this brief one-shot about a pair of friends investigating a haunted house. It proceeds along the lines of pretty much every haunted-house story ever, and the dialogue is a little heavy with exposition and philosophical musings. Gonyea's art, done entirely in scratchboard, has a nice creepy feel, though, and reminded me a little of the simple illustrations you might find in a children's book of ghost stories. This is a bit too intense for children, making it sort of balanced in an awkward place, but it's an interesting little experiment.
Big Dog Ink) Three issues of this series have been released, although I only bought the first one. It's a sort of supernatural/pseudo-religious thriller set in Las Vegas, which was what drew me to it. The idea is that the devil's daughter (who is of course super-sexy and well-endowed) has set up her own hotel-casino in Vegas, where she is literally buying people's souls. Mary Magdalene (also super-sexy and well-endowed) is her second-in-command, and Jesus is apparently doing a religious radio show. It's a little overly self-conscious about its religious taboo-busting, but generally approached with good humor. I also appreciated that Neto got a bunch of architectural references to Vegas right, although of course the story's understanding of Vegas is based on obvious cliches. Neto's art is full-on cheesecake, and as such his women all look pretty much the same (like lingerie models). The whole thing is trying a little too hard, but it shows glimmers of promise.
The Saga of Pandora Zwieback (Steven A. Roman/Eliseu Gouveia, Starwarp Concepts) This is another free preview issue, and when I opened it I discovered it wasn't even an actual comic book. Well, there are seven pages of sequential art, drawn by Gouveia, but they're literally just the title character talking to the audience about how awesome the upcoming series of prose novels starring her (written by Roman) will be. Then there's a preview of the opening pages of the novel, a painfully "hip" story about a disaffected teenager who discovers she can glimpse the world of the supernatural that others can't see. I actually liked Gouveia's clean, eye-catching art and the goth-punk look of Pandora, and a comic about this character could be fun. But the prose writing is ridiculously strained, with lame pop-culture references and a clueless approach to teen angst. I could barely make it through the seven sample pages.