A month or two ago I posted a very enthusiastic review of the new digital comics publisher Monkeybrain Comics. At the time the publisher had released about 5 first issues and things looked quite promising (http://entropicworlds.com/2012/07/22/monkeybrain-comics-worth-your-money/). Of course, in the world of comics, it can be difficult to tell what is the real deal and what is just a new gimmick. I wanted to take a moment to provide an update now that almost all of the titles have seen a second issue, and one title Amelia Cole and the Unknown World, has just released its third issue. The truth is that now I am more even more enthusiastic about this publisher than I was at its debut. The second and third issues are indicating that Monkeybrain isn’t just a creative new take on traditional publishing models, but is actually churning out some highly evolved stories for which there doesn’t really seem to be a similar venue across the comics landscape.
I’m not necessarily talking about any radical paradigm shifts or experimental storytelling, but rather a collection of titles that represents an alternative to the grim, satirical, pedantically post-modern and continuity-heavy concepts that define contemporary comics, and not just at Marvel and DC. I have been guilty of taking extreme pleasure in all of the aforementioned categories, and still am assuming the execution is good, but it’s always nice to see something different too.
It’s a fairly clean split between fantasy titles and superhero-ish titles. The “superhero” books offer a variety of fresh takes on the conventional narrative. I discussed Edison Rex in my last review, a light-hearted take on the villain/hero relationship with eccentric characters navigating fairly substantial themes of responsibility, self-worth, and public perception. Masks and Mobsters, on the other hand, tackles an entirely different aesthetic. It explores the golden era of superheroes from the point of view of the gangsters (mainly the lower level errand boys and lackeys) whose world has been turned upside down by the presence of superheroes. Its neither defined by high-brow deconstruction nor by glossy nostalgia as one might imagine from the synopsis. Instead, it is a story driven crime drama, albeit one allowed certain liberties and emotional resonance given the subject matter, but one with a keen eye for structure and character that thrusts forth an ambiguous take on a complicated world. I should add that the moody black and white artwork is hard to resist. Bandette, was my favorite title at the onset and after issue two it still is, though Amelia Cole is right there with her. Bandette is a sexy book about a teenage vigilante. When I say sexy, I don’t mean in the bare skin and thonged leotard sense, but in that sixties spy sense. Its filled with characters who radiate a contagious confidence, scoff at authority figures, and make their own moral codes.
The fantasy titles are interesting because they all follow female characters in their teens or early 20s. The fantasy world, or the fantastic elements, none of which are natural to the protagonists, serve as a portal through which the issues of identity and purpose can be explored. Wander has yet to see a second issue, but was off to a solid start and you can read my thoughts on it at the link above. October Girl continues to feature brilliant artwork from Matthew Dow Smith. The story that is a little slower burning than the rest, but has a haunting quality to it. Amelia Cole is easily my favorite from the fantasy half of the roster and it continues to get better each issue. Amelia, who had once inhabited both the non-magical and magical worlds has been flung into a third world that combines magic and technology. As a stranger to her new home she must navigate the challenges of being alone in a very new place, while also coping with the fact that she is seemingly more powerful than even the magical residents of her new city and has therefore come under attack by the powers responsible for maintaining the subtle cohabitation and cooperation of mages and normals. The characters are quirky and relatable, and the stories employ creative plot devices and twists, however the artwork makes it something truly special. Nick Brokenshire employs a dynamic use of angles and perspectives to convey motion and drama, but he also litters the background with details, ranging from newspaper headlines and ironic product placements to levitating cable repairmen. The details not only enhance the reading experience and allow the stories to stand up against multiple reads, but they also allow us to learn about this unpredictable world from a vantage point similar to Amelia’s own.
There is one more quality that seems to characterize Monkeybrain Comics’ titles, and I want to handle this delicately so that it doesn’t come across the wrong way, and that is that there feels like there is an element of spontaneity to these comics. Some of which surely comes from the freedom from editorial interference that these books enjoy, but it is also indicative of the chances that the creators are willing to take with these stories. There are moments that feel clunky comapared to the most edited and polished comics work, but it doesn’t take away from the story, it always feels sincere and seems to serve a purpose, if not within the narrative, at least within the overall vision of the title. Though some titles are a bit more episodic and linear in nature, a few have begun incorporating multiple narrative strands (Amelia Cole and Bandette in particular), that promise to be explored in later issues, making it clear that some of the creators have big plans for these little stories. I imagine it must be a nice feeling to have the freedom to undertake this type of narrative without the pressure of print sales that the traditional model necessitate.
If you aren’t sold on this publisher yet, I think its time to reconsider. As the catalog is filling out and the quality continues to improve things are only looking up. The beautiful thing about the digital model, however, is that you never have to worry about single issues going out of print or waiting around for trade paperbacks to come out; whenever you feel ready Monkeybrain and their whole back catalog will be waiting at Comixology.com