COMIC REVIEW: The OUTRÉ Anthology #3: Xenophobia‏

Free independent comics with a socially liberal message. Discuss? They can only be a good thing, surely? Does the message stand taller than the story or the art? Welcome to the world of Outré. As they say on their site, The Outré anthology “is the brainchild of Norwegian comic book creators Magnus Aspli and Glenn Møane”. They continue that “with Outré we want to deliver a thoughtful and unique product with superb quality in art and storytelling”. Each issue features four eight-page stories with additional themed content. Issue #3 is subtitled Xenophobia.

It’s digital and it’s free, it’s 52 pages long and it has a glorious cover featuring the Statue of Liberty holding a Stop sign and a Go Home book. No subtly there. Sometimes messages can be lost in subtle storytelling, but I doubt this was never an intention here. Swiping with keen interest, there is (on this pdf edition at least) a white page with glowing pale green text which can barely be seen. Very annoying and poorly judged. Almost unreadable.

Anyway, the first story is called Out! Out! Out! and is very clever. Written by Steve Ince, it first surbverts the norm, as male and manhood rights are on the line. The story then reveals, using news and interviews, that there is a science-fiction style threat to men. Meanwhile, we see a pregnant woman apparently fearful of her unborn, or maybe it’s the future she fears? The ‘twist’ is unexpected and fun. Well done Mr Ince in turning expectations around in a short space. Art is by Giles Crawford and fits the story nicely. Lots of dark colours and interesting looking characters, depicting almost kitchen-sink realism yet with a cartoon wink.

A single page drawing called peas in the pod by Jonas Larson is poignantly shocking before story number two: The day the foreigner came. Landon Wright tells a story set in Georgia about an American teacher’s impending arrival. The locals fear the worse – a charming, swarve type who will probably be a paedophile. There’s bemoaning of the influence of the west and the diminishing of traditional values, while criticising the young for wanting a better life elsewhere. By now, you expect the subversion which comes in the final page but it’s still cool to see it. Art is by Sebastian Chow and Kóte Carvajal. Rough and ready might be a good description. Almost as if trying to reflect life in rural Georgia by odd character design and basic backgrounds. Which brings up nicely the issue with anthologies. Usually, they follow a theme or a message but have different artistic styles and voices. Many comic fans enjoy certain styles of art and having several different styles in an anthology jars. Which leads onto story three…

After an article by film maker and comic book creator called ‘Comics Undressed’ (which is about a forthcoming documentary on gender and race issues in the comics industry), Kyle Kaczmarczyk presents Grave Travels. A familiar-looking monster roams around looking for a place to belong, before eventually finding one, told exclusively with first person narration and no dialogue. Ashley Ribblett’s art is black and white with some awesome tones and textures. The monster looks pained and there is something very haunting about the blackness. Sadly, the climax of this tale was a letdown. The best art against the weakest story. Comic anthologies for you.

A brilliant single page painting called x-factor by K. Michael Russell is made even better by the title and its placement. You’re expecting subversion and cultural commentary, but very skilfully done all the same. Then the final story; The Suburbs by Emmet O’Cuana with art by Sean Rinehart and Tim Switalski. Bright and garish hit you contrasting with realistic character design. Again, this one is science fiction and features some good old English jingoism. And tentacles. The perspective in the art work is all a little skew which is weird and the colouring is so in-your-face to be distracting. The final rendition of And did those feet in ancient time by William Blake (otherwise known as Jerusalem) makes for a great coda.

Giles Crawford returns to finish the books with a personal essay. And so we’re done with a mixed anthology. But then when is story collection anything but? A mix bag of art and storytelling with a clear and (for the most part) clever message. Can you be all things to all people? No. So this type of comic collection can never completely satisfy the comic book fan, whatever the message. But it’s free, so while not a classic by any means, certainly worth your time and your mind.

Download it for free here.

Title: The OUTRÉ Anthology #3: Xenophobia‏

Publisher: Outré Press

Rating: 3/5

Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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