Our second week back and, would you look at that, another brand new book! Last week’s “High Crimes” received quote the accolades, so how does Monkeybrain’s next new book, “Phabula” measure up?
Written and Illustrated by Dalton Rose
A young girl travels across a dangerous landscape of scorcerers and monsters in search of a means to lift a curse, and along the way she will have to challenge the greatest forces of her world.
The digital revolution from Monkeybrain is really coming into full effect now. After coming out of the gate with quite a few strong titles, last week’s “High Crimes” really showed that Monkeybrain has no plans of slowing down. At the very least, it proved that they are not playing around with its digital first catalogue and the quality of books they want to put out. And fitting wonderfully into that catalogue is their latest book, “Phabula,” done entirely by Dalton Rose.
“Phabula” is the first part of a series surrounding the titular heroine, who is on some sort of quest. The details aren’t specifically clear yet, but the methodology is: take absolutely no prisoners. Taking place in a largely undefined world, it becomes very clear from the get-go that things in “Phabula” are dangerous, mysterious and in every way ready to act as the perfect home for those with a penchant for maces and magic. Full of the same free-reign and unpredictable nature of books like Scioli’s “American Barbarian” (also digital-first), if the first issue is any indication then we’ve only seen the tiniest of what Rose has to offer us.
Rose’s first solo effort is definitely a solid one. Having previously shown us some of his talent on “Sacrifice,” Rose seems to cuts loose a bit more here in “Phabula.” This comic isn’t set in any iteration of history or reality; it takes place in a new world plucked straight from the depths of Rose’s imagination, and thats clearly reflected on the page. It’s wild, full of curious fauna that seem to be pulled from Maurice Sendak’s darkest mirror, and it’s a rather entertaining read from start to finish. It’s certainly the type of first installment that leaves the reader anticipating whatever is to come next, as the possibilities are seemingly limitless, and with this issue providing what we can assume is the books modus operandi then we’re pretty much set for a ride that promises to be quite unpredictable.
Not only that, but really, “Phabula” is a book that really gets to take advantage of its digital delivery. When read with Comixology’s guided view, the book takes on a new semi-animated life that really brings it to life. Since the book has primarily full of motion, the ability to really inject motion into the digestion of the comic helps enhance it. All that’s really missing from it is a consistent soundtrack, which perhaps we’ll get when someone writes a score, animates the whole thing and uploads it to Vimeo. That remains a very high selling point, though, as its something that the print comic can’t hope to match. When read as a straight comic, “Phabula” is actually a tad bit standard in its presentation with the repeated use of widescreen panels attached to a grid. Yet tilt your viewing device sideways, zoom in and you’ve got one heck of a flowing strip. The way it effects the read of the comic is staggering, and is highly recommended.
There are some slight faults to the book, albeit all minor ones. Some of the panels are a bit flat, despite being full of action with some great coloring work on top. The book appears to have a very light manga influence over it, which works in some scenes better than it does in others, and that’s primarily the main issue that the comic has. There’s certainly a great deal of humor it, but there’s a moment that reads like it was meant to be something greater than a comic-y pratfall. The strict adherence to a layout is also quite noticeable as well, especially after looking at a book like “Sacrifice” #4 in which Rose goes a bit wild. The use of a grid and steady panel arrangement can be used effectively, but with “Phabula” it doesn’t seem to particularly reflect any specific idea; rather, its the tool of choice, and its a shame that Rose didn’t play with the layout more. Yet with that last quibble basically going away with the caveat of the guided view, it doesn’t effect the read of the material too much.Continued below
It’s probably a big leap (and, to break the objective fourth wall, definitely a reflection on me and what I’m reading in my free time), but right now with just one issue out “Phabula” has the same sensibilities you can find in the earliest issues of “Cerebus.” It approaches barbarian/adventurer tropes with a certain sense of disregard, and its lead heroine has the same sort of pompous and cavalier attitude as to be a touch humorous, all otherwise dark scenarios aside. Given the change in artistry from Rose between “Sacrifice” and this definitely shows clear artistic growth, which is another “Cerebus” aspect that only strengthens the comparison. No matter how you see it (it’s got kind of a darkish Adventure Time vibe even, to an extent), it’s certainly work that’s only going to become clearer and more three-dimensional over time in every sense of the notion, and you’d be rather foolish to miss out on this.
For a whopping .99 cents, this is a great bargain of a comic.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – Buy (and you can buy it here)