This year represents the 15th anniversary of the little known but very important Comic Book Artists Guild (CAG). Founded by industry writers, artists, and other creative talents, the CAG seeks to network, support, and teach like minded peers throughout the country. With chapters in New York City, Nebraska, and New England, the guild produces at least one anthology per year to spotlight involved creators, alongside other projects. This includes “Iconic”, which is another anthology series which seeks to spotlight classic fables, myths, or real life figures in creative and unique ways. Each installment offers several short stories covering such things, all narrated by a mysterious “Grandpa” figure who acts as a host of ceremonies – much like a friendlier version of EC Comics’ famous “Crypt Keeper”. In fact, the first two volumes of “Iconic” were among the first comics reviewed for this column for its first trip to New York Comic Con (NYCC) in 2011. This year saw CAG and its members have an even larger presence within the New York Comic Con, as well as the long awaited third installment of “Iconic”! Unavailable online or in other stores, the NYCC was the only place to grab a quick copy!
Much like previous volumes, this third installment offers a half dozen short black and white stories which cover topics such as fairy tales, historical figures, and even little known comic book characters in innovative ways. In fact the only major difference this time around is that “Grandpa” doesn’t seem to have to entertain his grandchildren during the in-between segments. Written and co-created by Chris Buchner (of “The Index to the Marvel Universe”) fame, Grandpa instead seems to have shredded his sidekicks and embraces his role as host completely. He appears in one page segments between each story to put things in perspective and offer a good break point between tales, as well as seems to don whatever garb he needs to seamlessly fit into every story’s world. He sure has quite a wardrobe!
First up is “Redhoods.com”, written by Liam Webb, drawn by Wil Jones and inked by George McVey. It retells the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale in the form of a massive multi-player online role playing game in which “Little Red” (the avatar of Robin Little) has to rescue her friend “G-Ma” from a werewolf boss with the aid of another player, “Jack Woodsman”. It reads very much like a merging of “.hack” and “Once Upon a Time”, playing with many of the video game tropes (such as recovering health points) head on. Next on the docket is “The Kidd”, a western story written by Jon and Cezar Salamat, drawn by J.R. Pares and inked by George McVey. Set at the end of the 19th century, it features a precocious little girl whose boasts of being the daughter of the famous “Wild Bill” Hickok land her in some real trouble – thankfully her mother turns out to be Calamity Jane! Merging both of the famous stories of Frank L. Baum and Mary Shelley is “Dark Emeralds” by Liam Webb and J.R. Pares, with inks by Alex Rivera, which combines “The Wizard of Oz” and “Frankenstein” into one imaginative tale in which the young Judy Elizabeth visits a castle and meets all sorts of strange relatives (such as a hunchbacked cousin and a mad scientist aunt). One of the strongest pieces is “Caroline’s Catalog” by E.J. Barnes which chronicles the life and discoveries of 19th century astronomer Caroline Herschel, who cataloged the stars and was the first woman to be paid for her contributions to science (among other feats). After that is “Headless”, which sees writer Patrick McEvoy and artist Stanley Chou retell “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as a moody and atmospheric science fiction yarn involving several astronauts. The last segment is “Funnyman” by writer Jesse Pindus, artist Jean Dedeux and inker Steven Ting which pits the titular and less well known comic book creation by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster from 1948 against an analogue of his far more well known “older brother”, Superman (or in this case, “Magnificent Man”). The final pages offer more information about the original inspirations for all of these comic stories as well as biographies of all of the creators.
Much like the previous volumes, all of the stories within are creative, entertaining, and often educational. Even those who consider themselves experts on various subjects should learn something new here or at least be touched at the unique ways in which the tome’s creators choose to work with various historical and fictional figures. As with most anthologies, which stories one decides are better than others is very subjective. All of the installments are well drawn, written, and often researched as well. Considering the cover price is only $9.99 for over 100 pages of content, it is a tremendous value for the discerning customer.
As children, much of our media is designed to both entertain and educate, although too often much of it falls too far into one direction or the other. As adults, some projects which even hint of having an underlying “message” or aim to teach about something new can sometimes provoke negative reactions in people who “don’t want to be lectured to”. Yet “Iconic” always manages to offer such material with a wide variety of voices and with no end of imaginative executions. Each tome is truly a fascinating mixed bag, and one hopes it won’t be too long before the next edition hits a comic con near you!