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Indie Comic Review: Awake
Thanks Brandon Wenzel
Posted on March 19, 2015
My first review, or: It’s really THAT good Ok, so, starting right off I’ll come clean. I’m no reviewer. I don’t wear a fancy hat or go waking around strutting my mad review skills for all to see. No, I’m just a simple man that loves comics and what they represent. And just what do comics represent you ask? At their best, awake1 comics represent a perfect mold of art and words that tells a story in a way that no other medium can. When a comic is really doing what it’s supposed to, when all the elements are really there and nailed down, a comic becomes so much more than the sum of its parts, and you find yourself truly immersed in the story and characters. You start to hear their voices as you read along. Your heartbeat speeds up just a little when things get really exciting. And by the time you’re done reading you feel like you were there with them all along. This, is what Awake, Book One: Glaciers, does, and it’s why I love comics. But let’s be honest folks, that’s not much of a review, more of endorsement. So what I intend to do next is provide a convincing case as to my endorsement, and why I think you, the fine folks reading this, my first review, should think as I do about this book. With that said, lets get into the meat of it!
THE MEAT: So, what is this book? What’s it about? Who made it? If I whisper sweet nothings into it’s ear will it tell me it loves me? All these things and more I shall now answer! First off, what is this book? Well, like I said above, the book is called “Awake” and this is specifically book one, entitled, “Glaciers”. What’s it awake5about? The story follows a twelve year old girl named Regn (pronounced “Rain”) and her companions, Operi (a centuries old quadruple alien sorta bear/wolf…thing, that talks) and Bashi (a fox/dog…thing, that wears a scarf but doesn’t talk). The thing is, Regn isn’t a normal twelve year old girl (the talking bear/wolf alien should’ve tipped you off), no, Regn belongs to an ancient race of intergalactic travelers known as “The Dola” who’s job it is to awaken the consciousness of planets! Pretty snazzy huh? The job of guiding and protecting Regn on her quest falls to Operi, and to a lesser extent, Bashi. They, along with her ability to use light as a magic source (oh yeah, there’s magic too!) are all the things she needs to hopefully complete her mission, but, that’s an awful lot to ask of twelve year old girl, even one hanging out with a wise old talking bear/wolf and a fox/dog with a scarf. There’s also a side story concerning another Dola named Picar and his “friends” Chay and Gen (who, I’m compelled to mention, are not a bear/wolf and a fox/dog) . It seems Picar has left his responsibilities as a Dola behind in favor of a more carefree lifestyle, filled with games of chance and barroom brawls. But, it’s never that simple is it folks? Nope, it never is, and that’s to our benefit because there’s rather shady stuff going on behind the scenes of Picar and his friends. So, that’s what it’s about, good times.
So then, who made it? Awake is the result of B-CUZ LLC. Which, is comprised of Susan Beneville for the awake3story, Brian Hess for the art, Nancy Hess on graphic design, and finally Jaymes Reed doing the lettering. Together from parts unknown (Oakland California) they join their considerable talents to form an unstoppable giant robot, er umm, comic book company. So, yeah, that’s who they are. As to the question of whether or not the book will tell you it loves you if you whisper sweet nothings into it’s ear, afraid not (though, I’d be more afraid if it could). Even a great book like this one is still just a book, so you’ll have to get your romantic reassurance elsewhere. But then, I did say it was a great book didn’t I? So let’s take it apart piece by piece and I’ll tell you why.
STORY: Like I said above, the story of Awake comes to us via the talents of Susan Beneville, who, managed to do something most comics have a hard time doing these days; it presented an idea I hadn’t seen or thought of before. I’ve been reading comics a for quite awhile now, tag in television, movies, video games etc., and the sad reality is I’m at risk of being completely jaded before I even hit thirty years old. But every once and awhile, something smacks me in the back of the head and reminds me that there’s still new ideas out there. That’s a BIG part of the reason why I like this book so much. Now I’m not gonna lie and say that every element of Awake is groundbreaking or completely untapped territory. I mean, young kid, big responsibility, awake6companions to help her along her way. Obviously that part is pretty well tested, but that’s the base to build on. The finer details, the things that really fill out your experience as a reader, that’s where Awake gets me. As the reader I’m left asking a lot of great questions because I genuinely can’t see the answers a mile away. What does waking the consciousness of planets do? What exactly does photonic magic entail? What’s with the shady stuff in Picar’s story? And probably most importantly, how does a twelve year old girl and her friends interact to solve the trials ahead of them? I have no idea folks, and I love that. Of course, having a great idea is only half of the equation. You have to be able to actually express those ideas on the page in a way that draws in the reader. Luckily, Susan Beneville has that covered also. That’s why I referred to her “talents” plural and not her “talent” singular. A great book has to have great dialog, I’m sorry, there, I said it. It’s just true folks. Strong dialog is the difference between simply reading a book, being immersed as a reader. Susan handles this brilliantly. Not only does her dialog have a natural sense of flow, it lends itself to each character, giving them their own unique voice in the story. As the reader this helps After all, I’m not a twelve year old girl or a talking bear/wolf (or am I….?) so the dialog plays a huge role in what I can take away from the characters. All that, along with Jaymes Reed’s stellar lettering, and it is stellar by the way (another thing that can bog down a book is the lettering if it’s done poorly), amount to a fantastic story with some great original ideas built atop a stone solid base, and carried wistfully on the page by dialog that actually speaks to the reader in clear voices. I won’t say that it’s perfect, but it’s REALLY good. There’s more than a few “professionals” that could learn a thing or two from Susan Beneville.
The Art: Onto the art! The art responsibilities fall to Brian Hess and the graphic design work is handled by awake2Nancy Hess (I know I said that above but it bears repeating). So you know everything I just said about the story? About the sense of flow, and speaking to the reader? Well all of that’s fine and good by it’s self, but that’s not a comic is it? That makes for a novel or novella, something to that effect. And in a profound circular effort to appear deeper than I am, I come back to my initial statement about comics being a perfect mold of art and words. And guess what? That’s what the Hess’s (that sounds plural right?) did exceptionally well in this book. Brian Hess’s (there it is again…) art style definitely reminds me of the early 2000s Disney films (think Treasure Planet, a highly underrated film I might add.). It’s also got hints every so often of a subtle anime influence, and I know this is going to sound strange, but some of the facial expressions remind me of Penny Arcade a bit. That might be just me though. Regardless of my interpretation though, it’s a style that perfectly matches the subject matter. It has just enough whimsy to feel lighthearted for most of it, but also contains enough detail and depth to add gravity we needed, and it balances the two elements so well that it doesn’t seem absurd when they transition. It’s also got something else I love, a bit of what I refer to as “grit”. What’s “grit”? It’s the ability to recognize just by looking at it, that human hands had a part to play in the artwork and designs. With computers being able to polish every line and provide near perfect coloring and resolution, you could almost be forgiven if you didn’t know that actual people were involved in the creation of many modern comics. Between Brian and Nancy Hess though, they find a near perfect ratio of refinement and grit that gives the art a sense of substance while still maintaining a level of quality that feels every bit professional. But the art in a comic book is about more than just the quality and the style. It’s about how the art interacts with the story and dialog to create the scene panel by panel. This, more than the Disney type style, or even the grit, is what elevates the characters and storytelling.
awake7As a comic book artist you have to be able to not only match the dialog in the panel, but cary over the actions and sentiment when there is no dialog to spell it out. Brian Hess does this to a tee. The only sidenote I’ll bring up is the paneling. The style of paneling used in the book is very well thought out and evenly distributed on the page. So much so in fact, that it could (emphasis on “could”) irk fans more in favor of a “natural” panel setting on the page. This genuinely has no bearing on me personally (save that it brought a smile to my face when it reminded me a little of Keith Giffen’s layout style in the 90s), but, I know that some people do take issue with it, and I wouldn’t be presenting a proper review if I didn’t mention it.
The Overall: Ok, so you’ve more or less heard everything I have to say about the book, at least that I can go into proper detail in a single review. So here’s the brass tacks; The overall of this book is that it has great storytelling and dialog, great ideas conveyed clearly with great lettering. It has great art with a human’s touch and professional’s technique, emphasized by excellent graphic work. There’s new and interesting ideas on display, playing out on a format that’s familiar and strong. ALL of this amounts to exactly what I talked about above. About the molding of art awake4and words, about hearing the character’s voices as you read and your heart beating faster when it gets exciting! It’s about the almost perfect culmination of everything a comic is supposed to be when all the elements are there and nailed down. It’s about, why I’m a simple man (well, that part might run into deeper reasoning) who loves comics. So my assessment is thus; read it, read it, read it, READ IT! Why aren’t you reading it yet?! It’s really great, extremely well thought out, all ages friendly, there’s even a guest artist gallery at the back of the book…. I don’t know what else to say. Except this, I could’ve been handed anything as my potential first review. I’m beyond fortunate, that it was this book. So thank you to Susan Beneville, Brian and Nancy Hess, and Jaymes Reed for making my first review so much fun. It was a pleasure.
To find out more about Awake, follow them on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/awakecomic.