AnimeNYC’s 2023 show ended back on November 20. While I spent most of the time working the Denpa booth selling some new books, I did manage to take a nice stroll through Artists’ Alley and was pleased to find a number of indie comics creators, whose presence I felt was severely lacking in the con’s previous year. So now, here are the micro-reviews!
I Reincarnated as Myself Like Always! by Jane Mai (self-published).
What starts out as a parody of the standard isekai premise turns into a reflective look at a man who’s wasting his life. With solid art and writing, this book starts off funny. But going into the final act, the tone abruptly changes. Not to say that it’s failed comedy, it’s just quite a different turn than what you might expect from such a silly title. It’s a bit like the Guns N’ Roses song “Sweet Child O’Mine”: a catchy first 2/3rds, then a major mood shift in the final act. Neither of the two sections are bad; they just feel like two good parts of two tonally different stories, and they don’t quite jell for me. On a production level, it’s neat that this book was riso-printed and hand-bound.
Half in the Shadows, Half Burned in Flames by Ico (self-published).
An artbook by Washington-based artist Ico and designed by Kan. It features beautiful drawings and paintings of characters from The Legend of Zelda. A satisfying balance of painterly techniques and abstract layouts, these illustrations are simply made to be enjoyed. The comments are about 95% in Chinese, so if you want to understand what the artist’s comments are you’ll have to get it translated. Bafflingly, the author’s bio alone is coupled with an English translation, but that’s a small criticism on a fine piece. The quality of the final book design is exceptional, and it’s almost hard to believe it’s self-published.
Kisha: Demon Eater #1 by Newton Lilavois, Gian Carlo Bernal, and ClonerH! (Dream Fury Comics).
Most people don’t actively search for demons, especially in a world where demons are proven to exist. But that’s what happens to the titular Kisha, who can not only sense demons, but becomes possessed by one who happens to share her name and appearance. The demon Kisha also happens to literally eat other demons, so to say that things get complicated by the end of the book is an understatement. Things move quickly in this book, but possibly at the expense of characterization. The story is strong enough to stoke curiosity in the second issue, and beautiful artwork makes picking up issue #2 seem inevitable. Excellent production values on the book itself, though some of the art and text flirt with the safety margins.
Salvation #1 by Terence Young, Dwayne Robinson, Jr., and John Cruz (Animation, Comics, and Entertainment, LLC).
Vahn is a young warrior cursed with a demon mark, so he seeks the wizard Solomon to remove it for him. However, humans and demons alike want Vahn dead, which means every journey and destination is bound to bring misadventure. I give good marks to the story, setting, and artwork. Unfortunately, the readability is hampered by the panel layout, lettering, and dialogue. It’s sometimes hard to figure out the correct order to read the panels and word balloons. The dialogue has yet to find itself, as it wavers between typical medieval fantasy formality (“Why am I the only one who must shoulder this burden?”) and contemporary casual slang (“Say what?”). Punctuation is also wanting. Still, the well-choreographed action scenes warrant a look at issue #2. Book quality doesn’t differ too much from more mainstream floppies, and seems durable enough.
Ophiuchus by Ali Leriger de la Plante and Natasha Tara Petrović (Image Comics).
A visual standout at this convention, this is a story about warrior robots going on a fantasy adventure to save the universe. Very little not to recommend about this book, as the pacing is even, the characters are distinctive and likeable, and the story is easy to follow despite the numerous names and concepts that show up. As previously mentioned, the art stands out as a signature feature of the book. Authors Petrović and de la Plante use a limited palette and minimal linework to create a world reminiscent of the moody, semi-abstract background art from the Pink Panther cartoons. The characters themselves feature strong silhouettes, enough so that when twelve new characters appear in a single panel, it’s possible to keep track of the action. It’s a fun book that can be read and re-read within an hour, and you might spend even more time appreciating the artwork. Good book quality, though there are a few issues with safety margins and the flat black blending with the dark blue.
Neotera #1 by Randy Toroni (self-published by Studio Toroshi).
In the distant future, humanity has left the Earth in search of a new home. Traveler Nox finally arrives on their new home planet Neotera, except he is centuries late and awakens in a body that isn’t entirely his. Moreover, the planet seems to possess few humans and far too many cyborg dinosaurs. Neotera has all the trappings of a mainstream shonen manga, complete with action, mystery, and sex appeal. Author Toroni’s biggest setbacks are in the script, lettering, and the quality of the final art, all of which feel rushed. Toroni’s concept art at the end of the book is solid, which seems to confirm that the book might have been produced at some speed. Still, the story ends on enough of a cliffhanger to justify a look at the second issue. Another solid print job, though I do get nervous that I’m going to break the spine.
Vonn Sketchbook IV: 2019-2020 by Timothy von Rueden (self-published).
Another artbook, this is a collection of sketches by Wisconsin artist/designer Vonn. Vonn’s drawings are a mix of photorealism and fantasy, which look great rendered in pencil. The inker in me wishes that Vonn would take the plunge and rebalance the grays into black, but that’s a minor nit. I mainly picked this up because it contains the artwork from Vonn’s illustrated playing card deck, an idea I also have been tackling on and off for the past year. The book judiciously uses gold leaf on the cover and along all the edges, giving a highly polished feel consistent with von Rueden’s brand.
Overall, I think I made off rather well this year. Of the new series that I’ve picked up, I’m interested to see how the next issues will turn out, and anyway it’s next to impossible to judge an entire series by its first issue. It also makes me want to pick up the pace on my next comics project, which is already shaping up to be quite a bit longer than Valentine’s Day, and seeing how long that project took… well, comicking isn’t easy. See you again!