It’s been a wee while since I’ve reviewed an anthology comic, hasn’t it? Well, we’re going to remedy that here, as today’s selection is the most recent issue of Nix Comics Quarterly, a collection of short stories edited and largely produced by Ken Eppstein. On the comic’s official website, Eppstein lays out a mission statement where he talks about wanting this be a comic that is easy to sell in a record store as a comic store, as evidenced by the self-confessed hipster tendencies and the musical reference in many of the stories. It’s an interesting approach, but does it result in a good comic?
I hopefully won’t offend Mr. Eppstein too much by saying that my favourite comic of the bunch in Nix Comics Quarterly #4 is the only one not written by him. “The Mono-Nomicon”, written by Rachel Deering, is a delightfully odd story, setting up your expectations for a typical “dumb folk try to summon a demon and it all goes wrong” tale, only to subvert them, and then subvert them again, culminating in the ickiest French kiss to show up in a comic in a while. It’s all complimented perfectly by some stylish art by Glen Ostrander, striking the ideal balance between kooky and macabre. Definitely a standout, and a nice showcase for the talents of both writer and artist.
Not that Ken Eppstein himself is a slouch. While some strips are better than others – the recurring character of Bus Stop Ned left me cold in both his appearances – Eppstein does some good work here, crafting shorts that are laced with charm and wit. I think I most enjoyed the opener, “Eddie and Squid Contemplate the Great Beyond”, as it felt like the most expertly structured of all Eppstein’s shorts, skillfully establishing characters and an idea, filling the script with gags, then ending with a neat twist, all in the space of a few pages. Andy Bennett’s art on this strip is nicely done too, reminding me of the loose work of Noel Tuazon.
“The Devil and Quick Joey Small” and “The Blade Cuts Both Ways” are both cleverly plotted stories, with art from Bob Ray Starker and Matt Wyatt respectively that is not your typical comic book art. And I don’t mean that in an unaccomplished, “it looks indy” kinda way. Rather, it looks like the kind of stylised, pop-pulp artwork you might expect to find on vintage records, transferred to sequential form. Cleverly done. While the story is too slight to have much impact, it’s also worth mentioning “The Ray Davies Melee Marathon” for the slick visuals of Darren Merinuk.
Unfortunately, Eppstein’s stated aim to seek out new artistic voices from disciplines outside the field of comics does not always work in his favor. The aforementioned “Bus Stop Ned” shorts are hampered largely down to the patchy artwork. And I’m not a fan of photo comics in general, so in spite of some funny lines, “The Scarlet Inquisitor” didn’t do much for me. Even with the art that I like, because it’s so stylised and unconventional, it may not appeal to a typical comics audience. Though Eppstein talks about making a comic as marketable in record stores as comic stores, the actual product could possibly be more marketable in the former environment than the latter.
I’ve read a few references from Ken Eppstein about Nix Comics Quarterly appealing to hipsters. Nix Comics Quarterly #4 definitely feels like a hipster comic, so much so that it could limit its appeal. However, it does what it does very well, and though not every story hits the mark, most do. Well worth checking out.
Nix Comics Quarterly #4 is available to buy from the official website.