One of the best things about Independent comic books is the pure presentation of the creators’ vision: they can put whatever they want on the page, without fear of overcorrection of conflicting editorial input, and without the burden of making a comic for other people (if that makes sense…). It’s their vision realized, and it’s more often than not a really fresh story worthy of your attention.
For an anthology like Transmute, the reader gets that experience with FOUR stories from a talented creative couple that has a great synergy between them: Alaire and Toben Racicot. Alaire handles the artwork while Toben does the writing, designing, and lettering, which enables them to spin yarns that require no more than a simple paper airplane across the table – and that symbiosis shows very well within the first story, ‘Apostasy: Regenesis.’
This story features a hunter and his guide attempting to track down a particularly large varmint from a wealthy landowner’s property. Sounds pretty straightforward, eh? NOT SO FAST, POOPY PANTS – in this story (which I think is the best looking one in the collection) we get seamless work from the Racicots. Toben presents a fresh take on what could have been a clichéd look at a Western-set story, showing how the two hunters each bring incredible talents to the table…which are absolutely necessary when they track down the beast savagely working the land. It presents a jumping-on point to a larger story that is hopefully addressed in the future.
Alaire’s ability to generate emotion from her characters’ facial expressions is uncanny; while many artists – many working for some pretty friggin’ huge publishers, mind you – can’t seem to differentiate the faces of their characters, Alaire imbues them with not just individuality, but also with clear emotional resonance. Panels don’t even require words here to convey the tone and empathy, and it’s a credit to Alaire’s tight, clean artwork.
This transitions perfectly into Toben’s use of lettering. He’s able to use narration succinctly in stories like ‘In Tuesday’s Wake,’ a tale about his discovery of music’s power. He knows exactly how to display his text, and his stylistic choices allow for the story to exist without the detriment of sloppy – or even worse, shitty – lettering. Stories can become a slog if the captions or words of the characters are so poor they distract, but a fun story about a band coming together is handled with care thanks to his choices.
Probably my favorite of the bunch is the last story, ‘Thirst.’ This conjures comparisons to Brian K Vaughn & Steve Skroce’s tale of a post-apocalyptic Canada, but it tells a distinctly different story outside of location and date: this is a savage place, hard and lethal, where riders may not make it to their destination alive.
The lead protagonist runs out of water on her horse-aided journey, with only two bullets left, and she’s forced to the nearest well she knows of. While there she realizes that the precious resource has been contaminated, and is then assaulted by some highwaymen.
The action here is tense and violent, the captions sparse to allow the physicality to breathe. I really enjoyed the setting, the tone, the feelings of desperation and frayed optimism; there’s ample reason this tale was saved for last.
Transmute is a hell of an offering for a hell of a good price: You get a fully realized version of these stories, ones that hint to more adventures to come with these characters; You also get to see talents on display that will in time become more familiar when they are given their shots with bigger publishing houses. With such disparately set stories told wonderfully, it’s a collection that has a little something for everyone.
7.5 out of 10 WTF IS THAT WOODLAND MONSTER