One of the most anticipated annual events in comics fandom is Free Comic Book Day, where, on the first Saturday of May every year (unless you happen to be called Fully Booked), participating comic book shops around the world give away comics absolutely free to anyone who comes into their stores.
Of course with the internet there are now other ways by which creators can distribute their free goodies. Case in point: Wideawake Press has just released “The Ancient Age” – a free digital comic download which, in their own words, “gathers fantastic stories about the world’s earliest civilizations, as told by the mighty sequential artisans of today. A monumental mix of new and classic tales featuring heroes, philosophers, creatures, and gods.”
Amongst the aforementioned “mighty sequential artisans” is our very own Andrew Drilon, Filipino artist and spec fic writer, who contributes a wonderful little 65-page gem entitled “Xia.” I urge everyone to download the comic and try it for themselves, but for those on the fence (and unless you have a dial-up connection I don’t see why you would be–I mean, it’s free @_@) here’s a review:
EDIT: Forgot to mention–my copy of the Ancient Age had two copies of page 3 for some reason, but I don’t think I’m missing any, so it’s a 5 page story as it stands. I think Andrew mentioned it being a 6 page tale though so I’m asking him if any page is missing – regardless I think because of the style, it’s hard to even tell it’s missing a page.
Story: Andrew does a good job capturing the tone and rhythm of a myth, with repetitions and a things-come-in-threes familiarity which makes one imagine that the story could easily be told orally–which is precisely how a story in the mythic vein should sound (although on that note I would have expected the start of the narration to be a bit more grandiose than it was). I also like the wordy, overly descriptive title given to Mo Xing–even if my only real exposure to Asian pantheons was thorugh Jade Empire RPG and the Snake Agent (a wonderful novel with a very Asian take on Urban Fantasy)–it still felt right. (No, they didn’t teach us much about early Chinese mythology in Xavier, unless you count mooncakes and Mulan.)
Longtime comic fans (and discerning spec fic fans everywhere) might see a great deal of similarity between the premise of Xia and the seminal “Ramadan” story by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell (in Sandman #50) but rest assured that while there are similarities, the story plays out in a different, but satisfying way. The ending is the sort that surprises but makes sense in retrospect–which makes it a good ending.
Art: Andrew has a very intricate, eye-catching style. The comic may just be six pages but there is a lot going on in every panel, and each line on the page seems to be one which was placed there intentionally, after much careful thought. The embroideries and curlicues that form a sort of “aura of divinity” around Mo Xing are particularly well done, and really lend the story an old oriental storybook feel that suits the tale perfectly, as do the stylized clouds and magical creatures that Andrew populates the panels with. One minor quibble is that I wish some of the panels were inked darker (usually he seems to use a lighter touch to show out-of-focus or distant things, but there are times when I think clearer lines would serve) but that’s a matter of stylistic preference I think.
All in all, I encourage everyone to pick up “The Ancient Age” (just click the link–you can download it from the website) not just for Xia (although that’s all I’m reviewing here) but for all the other stories you can pick up for an unbeatable price of zilch. And hey, if you liked it, drop Andrew Drilon a line at his site.