"Hey look! Isn't that the lunatic that yelled at you before?" - Julius
Faction is a new Kiwi anthology that would seem to be operating as a show case for New Zealand comic creators. Fourteen Artists/Writers are included in the first issue, which suffers from a couple of problems. Firstly there are a tad too many ongoing stories for a publication of this type and secondly the writing isn't always as strong as the competing Australian and United States magazines deliver regularly. There is some talent being exposed but overall Faction seems more like an undergraduate University publication than a magazine to take to the World. Let's dreg the lake and see what editor Damon Keen has hidden in its depths, there are some treasures to be discovered.
Almost since the inception of ScaryMs in its current incarnation we've been hunting for Kiwi comic releases falling somewhere in the vicinity of the dark genre. Even after establishing contacts with some comic Distributors across the ditch, the idea of a Kiwi book hitting the dark heights seemed as elusive as the actual flightless bird the citizens of Aotearoa get their nickname from. I'm sure genre comics are being created somewhere in New Zealand but the Kiwis are proving as inept as Aussie fiction writers in getting their books out to a ready audience. So as you can imagine I was awesomely happy when I stumbled across 3 Bad Monkeys and their anthology release Faction, I was less happy when I saw what you actually get for your $20(NZD). There are hints this magazine could be great, but equally there are a number of fundamental problems with Issue 1.
Things kick off in resounding fashion with an excellent cover by Greg Broadmore, apparently it's a piece of art called The Hikoi. While I can dig the whole Daikaiju theme going down here, hey who isn't going to groove to a honking big lizard rampaging across a Kiwiana cityscape, naming a comic cover seems a tad on the egotistical side of the printing press. I was immediately put on notice that I had probably stumbled upon a Kiwi undergraduate release with serious pretensions that was missing the fact it was end of day simply a comic book! While I'll defend the comic medium in any court in the land, I'm more than aware no matter how good the individual work is there's still the fact it's picture panels and simplistic storylines. Memo to editor Damon Keen, be aware of your audience and more importantly potential audience, the great unwashed by and largely aren't dialling in for art.
Ned Wenlock's Migraine kicks off the stories in I have to say unconvincing fashion. I was okay with the artwork, it's certainly unique and holds your attention, but the story leaves a lot to be desired. I'm not quite sure if this is Wenlock's statement about drink driving, but there has to be something going down with this story beyond what is on the page. On a surface level the strip makes no real sense, probably does for Wenlock, but as a reader I'm simply not getting what he is trying to convey here. Which kind of highlights a second issue with Faction Issue 1, there's a reason for script Writers and Artists working on the same story, Artists don't make the best writers and vice versa. Of course there are exceptions to that rule, Jason Paulos immediately comes to mind - and even Paulos on occasion has Writers helping out, but on the evidence presented by Faction 1, that's not the norm in Kiwiland with a few notable exceptions that Faction highlights. Memo to Artists, script writing is a job and a half, better left to the actual Writers amongst us.
Which is a good segue into the next story that see's Ang Sang prove that he can both write and draw. I can't overly say much about this one without giving away spoilers in the form of big black smoke signals, but no doubt Sang will be on the sharp end of some PC attack for his subject matter here. I kind of dug the script that goes a little surreal on us, and for sure Sang's artwork wouldn't be out of place in some of the leading Australian publications that made a huge splash at Comic-Con last year. And backing up Sang like the sort of teenage sidekick you get in the superhero comics is Damon Keen with One Giant Leep, a sort of black comedy that does away with the necessity of having a script. Those with wicked senses of humour are going to be leaping out of their chairs and high fiving their action figures with glee over this story, to borrow a Jet saying. Actually Keen's story would make one freaking awesome short movie, wonder if anyone has the movie rights yet? Did I mention the artwork is pretty good? - check out the magazine folks, these two stories are strong indicators that the local industry is in a pretty good place.
Which brings me to the highlight of Faction 1, at least from my perspective. Jonathan King with Bookish is doing a number of things right, the story really rolls from the page with pretty much all avenues mapped out for the reader. For some reason those who want to read books have to score their volumes in pretty much clandestine fashion, this is never explained, I blame e-reader fanatics, but sets up the central concept of the story in sterling fashion. To cut to the Cliff's Notes version, book readers are showing up as dissected corpses, almost as if they had been forced to read the entire Twilight series in a single sitting. A Detective, who just happens to be a book lover and hence doesn't read Twilight, is on the case and finds he is chasing something a little bit supernatural. Read the story to fill in the blanks kids. King delivers a sort of 1960s crime style approach to the story, loved the retro look to this one which I'm sort of at a loss to describe. The price of Faction 1 is well worth the investment for this story alone.
Due to running out of room, and to keep things on a fairly positive note, I'm going to jump ahead here and mention Karl Wills' Connie Radar that has the distinction of out retro-ing even the great Jason Paulos. Forget about the sixties this comic strip is firmly stuck in the 1950s! Whether or not that is going to work for you is your concern, I had a wry grin when I got to the story at least, and Wills didn't let me down. Connie Radar, for those who couldn't work out the viewpoint from the title, is a Scientist doing her thing in Ny-Alesund, a remote research station on the Norwegian Island of Spitsbergen. She has managed to put a bunch of locals out of jobs and runs into some antagonism at the local post office as she goes about her day with her robot Julius. Connie is drawn and acts like the 1950s sassy chick, she isn't taking a backward step, which adds to the building conflict of course. So in essence over a few pages Wills offers a decent enough female role model that is more rounded than a certain other emo cretin I could mention from a recent series of movies. Wills let's his pens do his talking for him and creates a vision of a by-gone age without dropping the (snow) ball at any stage. Guess we'll catch up with more of Connie in the next issue of Faction, I'm certainly more than intrigued to continue the story arc, there's a bit of a mystery going down there.
There's a bunch of other stories in the magazine that I haven't touched bases with in this review, mainly due to having quite a lot to get through. Who knows, you might pick out a few favourites I haven't covered, knock yourself out, differing tastes yeah. On the bright side of the whale harpoon there's definitely something in Faction 1 for most readers, just skip the stories you aren't that interested in and you'll be right.
So I'm reasonably happy with what I got delivered in Faction 1, sure there's a lot of room for improvement, but considering this is a lead off issue not a bad result. We get some uneven stories, a few real standouts, but the important thing is we end up entertained. Now if Editor Ben Stenbeck could throw a little more darkness into the story line-up we might be onto a good thing. As it stands the contents were sort of a hodgepodge that isn't going to please any one set of genre readers, there's a few too many open ended stories for my liking, and the $19.95 plus P&H price tag is pushing the friendship a bit. For folk who dig Downunder comics, dial in this one may not be the best anthology you read this year, but for it definitely won't be the worse. To be honest I'm not entirely sure if our readers from up North are going to be interested, but hey have a look under the covers, you just might be in for a few neat surprises. Did I mention the magazine is in full colour, except for odd story?
The magazine has a website, right about here, which pretty much covers Faction and related news in depth. There's an option to download an electronic copy of the magazine, which I did for review purposes, so nothing to lose there really except a bit of bandwidth.
[Editor's Note: No we don't supply electronic versions of anything reviewed on this site. Please don't ask, I've taken to abusing people who make this mistake. Have a nice day.]