Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: Campfire July Releases

Campfire is a fairly new company on the comics scene, yet they have made their mark in reviving the niche for illustrated classic stories. Based out of India, the company uses Indian artists for the majority of their titles, and American writers to adapt classic works of literature (mostly written by the English and French) for the comics format.
Oliver Twist is the latest release from the Classics line, with the written adaptation done by North Carolina's own Dan Johnson. Now, Campfire has three new titles to debut in July- one Classic of War of the Worlds, a mythology story in Sita, Daughter of the Earth, and an original story, Space Race.
Starting with War of the Worlds, I was very pleased to see this story handled in the time frame that author HG Wells had set it in- at the close of the 1800's. Ryan Foley's scripting of the story is good, and doesn't seem to slow down from the first impact crater. Bhupendra Ahluwalia provides the art and has a great eye for detail, as many of the Campfire artists seem to have with presenting realistic images. The coloring work done by Akil Lal and Pradeep Sherawat may be just as important as the penciler's work. Too often today the inking process is skipped in many comics- pencils are simply darkened on the computer and the result is considered acceptable. This causes many comics to lose the crisp, clean lines and the solid blacks and whites that give the story a finished feel regardless of whether colors are added or not. The colorists on War of the Worlds make sure that the blacks do come out black, and many of the panels have a final visual result of having been inked.
The one scene that seemed a bit "muddy" was the death of the curate by the narrarator. The action is not clear and younger readers may have trouble figuring out what happened and who was to blame.
Still, a fantastic overview of this early sci-fi classic which delivers Wells' warning that mankind should not presume that because it enjoys a place at the top of the food chain, that it may not always be that way.
War of the Worlds has a publication date of July 5.
Next in line is Sita, Daughter of the Earth. This is a retelling of a Hindu myth of a king and queen who long for a child of their own and find one in the ground! Eventually, the royal couple have a child of their own, but unlike other myths, the sisters grow up together in harmony along with their two cousins. Rama, a prince of a nearby kingdom, catches Sita's eye. Like Sita, Rama is born of the gods but raised by men. After passing a trial, Rama marries Sita, and his brothers marry Sita's sister and cousins. Thus begins a life-long bond of family and friendship that supernatural forces cannot tear apart. Sita, Rama, and the rest survive years of exile, captivity, and epic battles that include other mythic Hindu characters.
It is only the fickleness of man that can pose a threat to Rama and Sita.
People not familiar with far eastern myths (present company included) will either find this fascinating or utterly confusing. I enjoyed the story and look forward to reading more of the myths Campfire has put out. I liked how terms and words were included/transliterated from the culture to add to the other-worldly experience for me, but others may get hung up on these words or slowed down by them. Fortunately, Campfire includes a glossary in the back to help understand many of the words and phrases used. The writer, Saraswati Nagpal shows a love of the Hindu legends and is careful to explain enough about a character when they are initially put into the story. The years pass by quickly, and given the characters appear to stop aging at adulthood, the passage of time is lost. I don't know if the lack of aging is part of the story, was called for in the script, or was overlooked by the artist. It could be the editor just wanting to keep the characters consistent- I don't know.
Manikandan's art really shines when he is drawing the mythical. His drawing of the ordinary and mundane is fine, but he really takes off when he draws the battles or characters like Hanumana, a sort of Monkey-King character. The coloring has an almost water-color array to it, which suits this tale set in fantastical places and times.
Sita has a publication date of July 26.
Last is Space Race, an original work by CEL Welsh and drawn up by KL Jones. Space Race is set in the future but tells the story of the advancements made in getting to outer space, and the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Welsh tries to lay down a lot of history in the story, while trying to make it sound conversational between Grandpa (a retired astronaut) and his grandson, Chet. I'm a nut for space history, and I wish Welsh had spent more time on the early Americans in the program- Mercury and Gemini astronauts, along with some of the breakthroughs leading to Mercury like Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier and the development of the X-planes. But the story is called Space Race, and the way Welsh presents it shows it as a tie with the Russians getting the first sattelite, first animal, first man, first orbit, first multi-crew, first space walk, and first woman in space while the US has the moon landing to balance against all that. Unfortunately, readers unfamiliar with this era of history will be lead to believe America was working on only getting to the moon- they will know nothing of the early programs or how they contributed to the long-term goal of reaching the moon. Welsh mentions the Columbia tragedy, but missed the Challenger crash. He also gives George W Bush credit for redefining the future role in space, but fails to mention Obama's demands for getting a manned vehicle to orbit Mars and return to Earth.
The art in the book by Jones is good and he really comes through when drawing the vehicles and rockets of space. His likenesses for real-life people tend to be a little off- for example President Kennedy and Apollo 11 astronauts all have soft, rounded faces like someone's grandmother- not the impression of heroic men who were pushed to their physical limits.
Still, the book is a good read, and offers some good insight into the space race, especially for people wanting to learn more.
Space Race has a publication date of July 12.
To see previews of these books, go to Campfire's website!

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