Those now used to a 22 page or indeed 20 page standard comic chapter will get a real reading rush from Ashes by Alex De Campi and a whole bunch of artists, including Dan McDaid, Mack Chater, Milton & Felipe Sobreiro, Carla Speed McNeil, Colleen Doran, Richard Pace, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alice Duke and Alem Curin (so far). Digital also means that chapters can vary in length rather than fitting a printed template, with far more scope. But it's not just about quantity is it?
There are several remarkable things about Ashes, currently rolling out digitally for those who funded it on Kickstarter. Firstly, it is a sequel to a series published and then left by IDW, Smoke. Still a wonderful cyberpunk comic, you need to not to have read a word of it to enjoy Ashes. All you need to know is infodumped on you in a bar scene that feels natural, comprehensive and, well, like pretty much every bar conversation I have engaged in. If it's too much, you just nod in agreement and you get through it. Job done. Of course, when you've read Ashes, you'll be convinced to pick up Smoke immediately, but I can't help that.
There is a dedication to expanding the language of comic books, the kind of thing you rarely see these days outside of Batwoman and Acme Novelty Library. And there's so much here that sits together organically. Here are just a few examples that stuck out from a first reading.
This scene transition from an eye to a shadowy silhouette to a person running down a pier. It's dreamlike, it suggests a connection between the two individuals even though they are separated by many miles.
Ears have been damaged by a blast. So the text in a speech balloons is partially scratched out, so the reader struggles to read and concentrates to work out what is being said, just as the character would be.
There is danger, but is it from the man or is it from the phone? The woman is safe, but as the man picks up the phone, we see the TV and a cartoon featuring a dog and a cat seems to have got rather nasty indeed. And as he concentrates, the threat encapsulated by the cartoon becomes more and more real.
A rooftop chase that is halted, partly by Scott Pilgrim, partly by Will Eisner. This kind of signage, relatively common in this book, is a real signature piece.
Reminiscent of Bryan Talbot's Alice In Sunderland, we get dramatic scene changes in tone, language and style to depict different perceptions of reality and mood.
And that mood does twist and turn, some parts feel clumsy but work as part of a whole and you realise bow essential that clumsiness was. It's thoroughly thought through. We have class, class politics, technology,conspiracy, the horror of a man just doing his job, how people sleep with awful people when they get drunk, how the right solution can still have unintended consequences and how gin is very imporant indeed.
Then there's the central plot which rises in issue two, which feels ripped from a schlock horror, newspaper headlines and a cerebral work of modern fiction simultaneously – the internet is angry with you and is out to get you. And you have to find a way to escape it.
I also found aspects that reminded me of comics such as THB, Watchmen, Criminal, Daredevil, Killing Joke, Preacher, Sandman, and so much more – and it also has the funniest mention of Wiltshire I've read in a comic. But I first met Alex De Campi on the Warren Ellis Forum. And his influence is well and truly stamped upon this book. Not so much in terms of cigarettes and mobile phones, though they are all present, but by a certain… attitude. Hit it.
Yes, the lead is Bernard from Black Books in a hot sexy dress.
Hey, Warren wrote a comic for Marvel called Ashes once… but this is better. It's a really good comic book. You might have gathered that from what I've been saying for the last few paragraphs.
Part four is out tomorrow for those who funded Ashes through ComiXology and it's a doozy. The collection, part of a Kickstarter-funded 1000 print run can be pre-ordered here. The book is still looking for a mainstream publisher who might pick it up.
- Little Shop of Comics in Scotch Plains, NJ www.littleshopofcomics.com
- Discount Comic Book Service (mail order): www.dcbservice.com
- Dragon's Lair in Texas: http://dlair.net/
- Big Planet Comics in the DC area: www.bigplanetcomics.com
- Isotope Comics in San Francisco, CA: www.isotopecomics.com
- Acme Comics in Greensboro, NC: www.acmecomics.com
- The Beguiling in Toronto: www.beguiling.com
- Strange Adventures in Eastern Canada: www.strangeadventures.com
- Ace Comics in Colchester www.acecomics.co.uk
- Gosh Comics in London www.goshcomics.com
- Dave's Comics in Brighton www.davescomics.co.uk
- Page 45 in Nottingham www.page45.com (also do great mail-order)
- Forbidden Planet International in The North www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk
- Paradox Comics in Dorset www.paradoxcomics.co.uk
Ireland: The Big Bang in Dublin www.thebigbang.ie
Germany: Comic Cafè in Bremen, Germany: www.comiccafe.de
Australia: Alternate Worlds in Melbourne www.alternateworlds.com.au