Yesterday, Sept.28th 2011, BULLET PROOF COMICS on 2178 Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, NY held a signing to promote the sale of the creator owned DREAM REAVERS #1, published by APE ENTERTAINMENT. It included the writer and creator of the series, Raphael Moran, as well as artist Abele Lovelace – who is not only the guest artist of DREAM REAVERS #3, but has his own creator owned series to promote (CITY OF WALLS). I was one of several Internet sources covering this signing, which included Kerwin Williamson of Studio Phoenix. The atmosphere was very modest and unintimidating, providing a more intimate signing experience than one might have at a major comic book convention or even a bigger Manhattan shop such as JIM HANLEY’S UNIVERSE or MIDTOWN COMICS. Moran had enough copies of DREAM REAVERS #1 on hand to sign and dole out to eager customers, as well as posters of the cover. Given that Moran and I both knew each other as posters on SUPER HERO HYPE’s message boards, there wasn’t much ice to break.
Moran spoke a bit about his time with APE ENTERTAINMENT as well as this new series. He and artist Marc Borstel got their start at APE when they applied for a general submission drive for web-comics that the company was issuing years back. While that web-comic drive is now a thing of the past, it got their foot in the door with the publisher. DREAM REAVERS will exist as a four issue mini series which will have a clear ending, although will offer a window for a sequel “if it does well”. While Borstel is the regular artist and colorist, every issue will have an additional guest artist – such as Atul Bakshi in the debut issue. As the series revolves around dreams and psychic abilities, this creates a lot of leeway for different artists to come in and do some great work. While this is also a tactic to allow Borstel to draw fewer pages to meet deadlines, this is a perfectly fine strategy that several writers do in some Marvel and DC – such as Ed Brubaker with CAPTAIN AMERICA and IMMORTAL IRON FIST (via flashback scenes or dream sequences). While Moran kept mum about plot details of future issues, he did hint that “not everyone may survive” the final issue of this arc. Moran and Lovelace are not only budding creative talent in the comic book industry, but are also friends and regulars at BULLET PROOF COMICS – a shop which offers a perfect marriage of comic books, video games, manga, and DVD’s. The comic book biz is very much like a community, both online and in real life, where the line between fan and creator blurs and overlaps, and tastes can run across several genres. It was often hard to maintain a guise of a “journalist” and instead, enjoy conversations with Moran and Lovelace about the state of the industry and it’s future. Moran noted that Diamond Distribution’s requirement that all comics they distribute have pre-orders of 2500 copies was a major burden to indie creators in the print industry, who hadn’t simply decided to sell digital completely. While the signing wasn’t as big as, say, Dan Slott doing a signing in JIM HANLEY’S UNIVERSE, it was nice to attend a signing without having to ride a subway, and meet with creators one already knew.
With ink from autographs still fresh, both DREAM REAVERS #1 and CITY OF WAR beaconed. How did they fare?
DREAM REAVERS #1 – While APE ENTERTAINMENT likely makes much of their bread and butter from licensed material such as several DREAMWORKS franchises along with RICHIE RICH and STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE (whose comics are literally scented), they also are branching out into publishing creator owned material. Enter writer Raphael Moran and artists Marc Bortel, and Atul Bakshi with their series which revolves around four teenagers who have psychic powers and enters a dream world – so, so goes the premise blurb on the back cover. The comic itself is several centimeters taller than a typical comic and for $3.99, there are 28 pages of story – a far better deal than many comics by Marvel, DC, and even Image. The only dilemma is that it will already fall behind schedule, with Moran announcing that issue three may run a bit behind. However, this issue focuses entirely on introducing it’s four characters as well as their powers, to a degree. Marcus Randal is a former drug addict who has been put into the Ravenwood Institute who uses his psychic powers to discover the sins and secrets of those around him, while seeking to rebel against the strictness of his dominating father. The blind Sophia Santos, or “Saint Sophie” as she is often dubbed by those around her, uses her psychic powers to perform miracles and find missing children in Bolivia, which naturally is hardly the most stable of settings. Nyla Deardon, meanwhile, is a “poor little rich girl” who can psychically command anyone to do her bidding, but has become incredibly bored with life since it now offers her no challenges or surprises. Aaron Pierce is the last of the four to be introduced, although he quickly meets with two of the aforementioned psychics; all of whom entered comas at the same time over vast differences. He has a connection to Marcus, which manifests in an extended dream sequence which is partly drawn by Bakshi which invokes an homage to Jack Kirby’s over-the-top superhero style. Pierce becomes the reader’s point of view character as the transition to the world of Astral begins. It’s a realm in which the laws of physics and gravity don’t apply, monsters lurk in the shadows, and in which what one can do and even how they appear to others depends on imagination and willpower. Pierce actually has a connection to one of these four in the “real world”, which is the last page shocker.
Moran is wise to devote 90% of this issue to introducing his main characters over exposition about the realm of Astral, which will presumably start to be seen or observed by the characters in subsequent issues. The only hiccup is that it is a narration box and not any character which names Astral, which can seem a bit obligatory – but since promotions online and on the back cover have already named Astral, it isn’t a big deal. The four characters provide an even split between the sexes and to a degree with archetypes. You have a helper (Sophie), a spoiled princess (Nyla), a trouble-maker (Marcus) and the lead (Aaron). They’re not exactly characters as deep as the ocean yet, but for a first issue enough is known about them to start off. Aaron’s introduction is the most bizarre of them since it begins in a dream sequence, which helps to break with the normalcy of the previous three; his issues and insecurities are also immediately laid bare. That could be a dilemma – knowing the neurotic tics of your hero before much else – but it at least prevents Aaron from being boring, as many “leaders” often are accused of being. While this is clearly part one of four, and 25% of the DREAM REAVERS saga, enough is set up to build anticipation for the second issue, which promises more action in Astral and thus more of a chance to learn more about it all. The artwork and colors by Bortel are exceptional, which a lot of attention to detail and color as well as a sense of flow. Astral as well as the dream sequences give him and Bakshi more chance to shine. While some elements of the premise may remind some of “A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET III – THE DREAM WARRIORS” only without a slasher villain (yet), this is at it’s heart a psychic dream fantasy tale featuring a cast who to varying degrees are all manipulated, sheltered, and/or defined by the adults around them journeying to a realm where they have far more power and latitude. But as with the entire teenage experience, gaining more independence and power is wrought with challenges and threats. Overall, a solid introduction to a psychic teenager adventure series, even if Diamond’s strict printing limit may require one to pre-order it from their shop, or via online circles.
CITY OF WALLS: VOLUME ONE: FIGHT OR FLIGHT – This isn’t exactly a new release; the content in this volume was originally sold in 2009. This volume collects three issues of what is intended to be a six issue tale, although according to the website and Google, the rest of the series has not been released (besides issue four). CITY OF WALLS was created by writer Shaun Noel and artist Abede Lovelace (who also had a hand in the plotting), and offers a tale outside of the capes and superheroes that dominate many comics. It is set in the Asian city of Kowloon, a walled city in which the streets are too narrow for cars and in which there are only the nobles, who live in a far off section with towers and advanced technology, and the slums, which are ruled by the Triads gang. The series focuses on three youths who live in the slums of Kowloon; Daniel, Jin, and Ariana. All three of them share interconnected lives, tragedies, and ultimately dreams in a walled city which may as well be a prison. Daniel is a brilliant and scrappy boy with a flair for drawings and stories, whose father has been pressuring him to ace a standardized test that the nobles hold for their elite school, which usually offers the only chance out of the slums for many. Jin is a junkyard rat who is often timid but has a flair for building and engineering, whose father died in one of the frequent motorcycle races that are held in one of the rougher neighborhoods. Ariana helps run a small grocery store with her father, who struggles to keep heirlooms of her murdered mother, while her father seeks to forget her. Daniel’s ability to make up stories inspires Jin to seek to build a functioning airplane in a bunker beneath the junkyard, which becomes their passion. Ariana and Daniel begin to grow closer, and the girl proves to be a valuable asset not only as an extra set of hands, but as a method of gaining materials from other countries like maps or books that her store comes across. While there are months to go until Daniel’s test results are in, he is hesitant to leave his friends, who all envision escaping Kowloon in their plane and flying to California. Unfortunately, when Jin ventures into that rough racing section for a vital engine part, the kids become separated and under attack.
Much of the appeal of the story comes from Lovelace’s atmospheric black and white artwork. While there are occasional anatomy hiccups or some rare text errors in the lettering, Lovelace does a great job of displaying the city of Kowloon as a character unto itself, and on the emotions of the characters. The story offers a mix of childhood innocence mingled with the often blunt and violent realities of an impoverished, isolated area. Daniel’s imaginative stories offer a mix of fantasy elements which help alter the flow at times, but the colorless art allows the inks to really shine and set the mood. The story offers a clash between kids who dare to dream and the oppressive reality that imprisons them and seeks to shatter it. The fact that the kids envision flying a plane all the way to California – ignorant of a lot of the realities and difficulties of such a feat – showcases the ambition and innocence of youth, even in a place as gritty and hopeless as Kowloon. This is a story in which if one wanted to summarize what happened over three issues, it wouldn’t take long – but it is the art of getting there which makes the story. Thus, to a degree, it is a story that is easier to read than review. Published by STAND ALONE PRODUCTIONS and COMIXPRESS, hopefully the second half of the story is released in the near future, so we can see if the “three dreamers” make it. The story focuses heavily on the characters to the point where when the violent climax emerges, one genuinely cares about their fate. All three kids have their own possible routes out of Kowloon; Daniel via his smarts, Jin via his relative in California, and Ariana via her connections. They all choose to unite in their quest, which may prove more of a sacrifice for Daniel since he’s the one who has a shot at the elite noble school. While not offering the high powered fantasy of DREAM REAVERS, CITY OF WALLS is simple and effective at what it does.
Chasing dreams is a theme that many “indie” creators in the industry share, whether literally or metaphorically, and thus these two comics proved to be an ironic and entertaining element to this signing. It also spotlighted that Manhattan isn’t the only place in which indie comic talent can coverge. Viva la Brooklyn, baby!
BULLET PROOF COMICS – http://www.bulletproofcomix.com/home.html
DREAM REAVERS Signing Announcement and run-down of BULLET PROOF COMICS – http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/dream-reavers-signing-bullet-proof-comics-this-wednesday-9-28-11-3-7-p-m
DREAM REAVERS on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/DreamReavers
DREAM REAVERS at APE ENTERTAINMENT – http://ape-entertainment.com/comics/creator-owned/creator-owned-a-m/dream-reavers/
CITY OF WALLS Website – http://www.cityofwalls.com/home.htm
Kerwin Williams – http://www.studiophoenix.blogspot.com