Project 365: One Comic Every Day, Week 40

The premise is simple: read one comic every day for the entire year. It seems like a simple task but there is no way that I read 365 comics last year, even if you count the individual issues in collections. So, this year, I am committing myself to this reading challenge, in the hope that I can broaden my reading habits and fully engage with my favorite hobby again.

This week is a game of two halves. No, the comics aren’t sport related, although it would be fascinating to do a week of sport-related comics. I have comics based on Roller Derby, fencing, football (soccer, for my American friends) and it might give me an excuse to buy Ping Pong, a manga I’ve been intrigued about for a while.

No, this week has been half classic anthropomorphic fantasy and half new comics based on old concepts. Even when I pick up something new, it seems to be old.

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Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152
Credit: Archaia Studios Press

Comic Number 272 – 274: Mouse Guard Autumn 1152 (counting 2 chapters as 1 comic as I read it over 3 days)

This is a hardback collected edition of the six-issue series written and illustrated by David Petersen. It was released in 2006 and was named “Best” something or other by many different publications and websites (Best Indy Adventure Book by Wizard, Best Indy Book by, Best Mini Series by Metro News in Canada) and has always been one of my favorites. It has the presentation and aesthetic of many classic children’s literature — think Brian Jacques’ Redwall series and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, but with a touch of darkness to its soul. I would say Mouse Guard is born from the traumatic experiences of Watership Down and adult fantasy series like A Song of Fire and Ice.

The two most impressive things about Petersen’s work are the world building and the presentation. The world of Mouse Guard is massive and contains so much detail in a very small amount of space. Petersen manages this by creating the impression of a large world through throwaway comments and references to histories as yet explored. A map at the front of the book teases the possibilities for adventure and that sticks with you as you read, even when much of the action takes place in an unnamed woodland. You finish each issue with the sense of having experienced more than you have. This is compounded by the fact each issue has an opening page which acts as a ‘previously in…’ but also expands on the narrative threads elsewhere in the world.

It’s not possible to talk about Mouse Guard without addressing the shape of the comics. It is a big factor in the reading experience because each square issue feels so much bigger than a regular comic (without being so) and the layouts tend towards larger panels with simple panel transitions across the page. Although simple, there is a majestic beauty to the images and the straightforward way in which Petersen tells his story. Anyone can pick a copy of Mouse Guard up and instantly understand not only the narrative each issue displays but also how to read it. It is designed to appeal to anyone of any age but that doesn’t mean that older readers can’t enjoy it.

Creepshow Vol 2 #1, Image Comics
Cover Credit: Guillem March

Comic Number 275: Creepshow Vol 2 #1

The Creepshow format has been around since 1982 when Stephen King and George A. Romero joined forces to create a movie anthology of grotesque horror in the vein of EC’s Tales from the Crypt. The movie was a collection of spooky tales, each with a different twist but all embracing the visual horror that a large budget movie would allow. The stories were laced with humor and enhanced gore.

There have been two sequels and a recent television series based on the concept, so it’s not surprising that there would be a comic book series as well. The horror anthology has been the backbone of the comic industry almost since the beginning so it’s always a bonus to see new titles hitting the selves.

In this issue there are two disturbing tales. The first by Garth Ennis and Becky Cloonan which deals with the consequences of a dark family secret, and the second by Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur is a tale of reanimated corpses and natural invaders upsetting the balance of power.

Garth Ennis’ Make Your Choice is as brutal and as cruel as you would expect from the writer of Preacher but it is the artwork by Becky Cloonan and the colors by Lee Loughridge that really give this story its edge. There is a reality in the visuals that is undermined by the supernatural element. This creates an atmosphere of unease that becomes more and more unbearable throughout. The ending is brutal but, arguably, justifiable. It is a comment on modern society that is as blatant as the images are unsettling.

Phil Hester’s contribution is contrasting in visual design but not narrative punch. His artwork has a style that is harsher and suits the off-kilter, horror genre. He also takes a standard horror cliche and gives it an added twist, clearly not satisfied with a pure zombie story. Why just have flesh eating ghouls when you can include parasites and fear induced delusions?

Just like the movies before it, the Creepshow comic does exactly what it sets out to do. It may not have the narrative brilliance of the EC comics, or the ingenuity of longer form horror comics such as The Empty Man, but Creepshow gives you a scare, turns your stomach, and leaves you nervously laughing about the absurdity you have just read.

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152
Credit: Archaia Studios Press

Comic Number 276-277: Mouse Guard Winter: 1152 #1-2

Hot on the heels of Autumn: 1152, Winter: 1152 is the continuation of the rodent adventures by David Petersen. The opening third of the series is packed with the same high adventure as Autumn but with a brand new backdrop of frozen wastes and dark, cavernous tunnels.

Petersen’s artwork continues to impress and his narratives really get the emotions flowing. Each mouse is distinct and has their own personality that shines through from panel to panel, page to page, issue to issue. After eight issues, it’s almost possible to predict how some of the characters will react because Petersen’s character work is so spot on.

This, of course, makes it emotionally more upsetting when they are thrown into life threatening situations. There are some edge of the seat moments in these two issues and the first cliffhanger is perfectly executed.

The bonus of owning all of these comics and reading them in bulk is that you don’t have to wait for each issue to come out. Reading the collected books, you will never know the long, agonizing wait between issues and stories. At first they were bi-monthly, but by the end of the Winter: 1152 run, there were longer gaps between the issues. The third series, Black Axe, began in December 2010 but was not completed until June 2013. Keeping to a regular publication schedule is paramount to maintaining readers, something which the big two publishers, Marvel and DC, understand. I can completely understand why readers of Mouse Guard became frustrated by the long waits. However, the finished product was worth the wait in this instance.

Comic Number 278: Transformers #1 (2023)

How could I possibly let this one go by unmentioned? It’s not like I’ve spent half the year re-reading the G1 Transformers comics or anything.

There are some very good insights into this comic elsewhere on the site (here for example) but I couldn’t let the week pass without giving a huge thumbs up to Daniel Warren Johnson, and co-creators, for an exceptional first issue. I’ve read a number of different interpretations of the Transformers and each is fascinating in its own way. More often than not, each interpretation reflects the trend in comic visuals/narratives that is prominent at the time of publication but I think that Johnson has created something that is distinctly his own. There are a number of Easter eggs and references to the franchise which will make a few old school fans smile, but I see the main goal of this comic as attracting new readers.

It has been 39 years since The Transformers #1 was released so it’s about time for the robots in disguise to find a new audience. If current fans like it then great, wonderful, throw your money at it, but if not, it doesn’t matter. Times have changed, comics have changed, and the Transformers have…. changed*. This comic is in safe hands with Daniel Warren Johnson who is proving to be one of the best comics book artists working today.

*I regret nothing

Darryll Robson
Darryll Robson
Comic book reader, reviewer and critic. A student of Comics Studies and still patiently waiting for the day they announce 'Doctor Who on The Planet of the Apes'.