(Self Published, 2014)
Created by Ryan Kelly
I love going blindly forward into a new comic. For the longest time I’ve been a “judge a book by its’ cover” kind of guy (Apologies to Mrs. Paulson, my high school librarian), but in the comic book industry that is generally a good way to stick to stuff you like. Not always though. Indie comics tend to be a whole different can of worms, horse of a different color, choose your metaphor.
One good way to choose and indie book is by finding an artist or writer that you’ve previously seen and if you enjoy their work, well, it’s a jumping off point anyway.
Ryan Kelly has just released his own book, Funrama, with issue 3 dropping this week. If you don’t know comic creators off the top of your head (and shame on you) Mr. Kelly has been associated with such books as Saucer Country and Brian Wood’s Local, providing great artwork to go along with great scripts. Often it is the case that people who spend all of their time drawing other people’s words have an idea of their own brewing, but what is unusual is that in Kelly’s case is that he chose to release this book on his own rather than go with one of the may publishers that I’m sure would have been happy to have him, and Funrama.
Reading this book is an experience in itself. I didn’t know what to expect, and as I began to get through the first issue I thought I had it figured out. Issue #1 is a super-villain book centered around a group called The Mutant Punks, who come from the Bermuda Triangle (where the land of Funrama is) and are bent on the destruction of all the fuzzy warm feelings that the human race is fuzzily feeling. So there you go, Kelly wrote a super-villain book…I get it.
Then I read issue #2, which is focused on a completely different character. Raccoon is a high school student, confused about her place in society, uncomfortable with the choices she is on the verge of having to make as she graduates, and fighting crime at night with “an arsenal of weapons made from common household items.” So now I know what this is, it’s a sort of one-shot series, focusing on a different character every issue, singular stories that showcase individuals in extraordinary circumstances. Of course Funrama rears its’ head near the end, and I see that the first two stories are connected, at least through the Bermuda Triangle.
Issue #3 is another different story. Cactus Man is a man in the worst possible position, between the rock of the striking union workers and the hard place of the scabs and the corrupt bosses. At the last crucial moment of the book he is saved by the Leopard, a mysterious guardian or recruiter from Funrama. (Not quite sure who he is yet, but there are some teasers in the newest issue that are quite leading.)
My standard way of reviewing books is to keep a word document open, and to write my main observations as I read the book, then go through it again and refine those observations. One of the first things I wrote was “feels like an R. Crumb book…’ It was the combination of the political black and white first couple of pages and the introduction of the anthropomorphic Bomb-Cat character that led to this impression. I don’t think this is wholly off in that respect. Kelly is writing a story the way he wants to…in whatever order and with whatever kind of content he wants. That is the spirit of a Zap Comic. It’s the making of comics for the pure joy of telling a story that a creator wants it told, and Ryan Kelly is doing exactly that. Because he is a professional artist the work inside the book is professional and clean, but it is because he is also a good storyteller that it is an engrossing read. He is showing the fascinating connections between seemingly unconnected characters, and he is able to instill a personal connection with Raccoon and make the reader sympathize with Cactus Man.
Ryan Kelly has created a unique comic experience that I think could only be first realized in the indie market, but one that could become a fantastic example of how to successfully realize an original idea. Funrama should be on your pull list even if you have to travel through the misty weirdness of the Bermuda Triangle Comic Shop to get it.
Brad Gischia is a writer and artist living in the frozen Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is married and has three kids and a dog, who all put up with his incessant prattling about comic books.