I always feel like I’m late to the party when it comes to discovering the hot new talents of comics. I became a fan of Jeff Lemire thanks to Sweet Tooth, when those in the know were already heralding him as one of the next comic greats in the wake of Essex County and The Nobody, for example. But one of the good things about my review work becoming a bit more prominent and more creators getting in contact with me is that I now might get the chance to be there from the start, and watch a creator grow and mature into a master storyteller. I think that might just be the case with one Fabian Rangel Jr.
Several months ago, in my review for the second issue of 215 Ink’s werewolf caper Extinct, I said that Rangel Jr was “a rising star to watch in the comics world.” Well, if his latest effort – Fall, an original graphic novel, also from 215 Ink – is anything to go by, that star has risen. Extinct was a series I enjoyed, with clever writing from Rangel Jr and some quality artwork from Jethro Morales, but Fall is a superior work. It covers some similar themes – the isolation of high school, nostalgia for a bygone era (this time the ’90s, rather than the ’80s), and a mix of humor and horror. But Fall has heart as well as wit, and in spite of the sci-fi elements, feels like a deeply personal tale. The execution of the narrative suggests a writer who has grown in confidence as well as skill, his voice emerging as he gains a surer grasp of the medium with experience.
To offer a plot summary, Fall is about a lonely boy called Josh who befriends an alien called Russ. Only it’s about so much more than that. It’s about the strength of childhood friendship. It’s about seeing the beauty in a world we float through and all too often take for granted. It’s about the harsh realities of growing up, and putting away childish things. This is a story steeped in such earnest emotion that it would take a heart of stone not to get caught up in it. The narrative may not be set in the ’80s anymore, but that’s the decade the story seems to draw its influence from, reminiscent of such great childhood fables as Stand By Me and, of course, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. But it’s not all sentimental and saccharine, with an emotional gut-punch at the end that gives the warm glow that precedes it a bittersweet aftertaste.
Amidst all this praise for writer Rangel Jr, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the fine work of artist Juan Romera. I’ve praised Romera before, noting him as a standout amongst the stable of artists working on the Western anthology, Tall Tales from the Badlands. In his story for that book, A Thousand Deaths, I noted a similarity to the work of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, and the visuals for Fall have a certain Daytripper vibe to them.
Romera’s style is very simple, but that very much works in the graphic novel’s favor, given that dreamy, fable-like quality the story strives for. The art strikes just the right chord of emotional resonance at all the key moments, from the stunning beauty of the autumn leaves in the eponymous Fall (it’s a title that works on so many levels, but I’ll leave it to you to mull over them once you’ve read the comic yourself) to the big, round, expressive eyes of Russ. I should note that Romera’s biggest triumph is the design of Russ himself: he’s suitably cute, cuddly and toyetic, but the battle armor and sharp edges to his features also suggest a little edge, giving him an added cool factor. The rich, sepia-toned colors aid in enhancing that aforementioned warm glow of nostalgia, and Ed Brisson’s diverse lettering helps to give Russ a distinct voice. Overall this is a very nice looking graphic novel.
215 Ink have progressed a lot this year, and I’ve watched their development with interest. They seem to have placed their faith in an intriguing crop of emerging talent, providing for them an open community within which to grow roots. And now, as a little time passes, we see some of that crop develop into big, impressive… creator trees (to exhaust that metaphor), with 215 Ink reaping the benefits of gaining the loyalty of these folk they saw potential in. In finding a story to compare Fall to, the first one that springs to mind is Scott McCloud’s seminal work, Zot! And people who know me and the mad love for that story will know that such a comparison would not be made lightly.
As a final illustration of just how much Fall blew me away, let me relate this anecdote: I have read many comics sent to me for review purposes, I’ve enjoyed most of them, and I’ve found a few to be genuinely great. But Fall is the first one that I’ve read, then checked out the Previews code (it’s SEP111247, by the way), and seriously considered contacting my LCS about ordering it so I can buy a physical copy to own. It’s that good. And you should all be seriously considering doing the same thing.