Written and Drawn by Matt Bellisle
Over the last couple of years I’ve become increasingly interested in the indie comic market. I go into comic shops whenever I’m traveling and look for their “indie title” or “local author” section. Sometimes there are none, but increasingly, you find that each and every little town has a dedicated cadre of comic enthusiasts, willing to put the effort into creating a book.
I found TetherMen at a shop in Wisconsin, and immediately picked it up and slapped it (lovingly of course) on top of the pile I was in the midst of purchasing. Matt Bellisle, the author and artist, has delivered a unique book in a clever package.
In this world there is another, the coexisting realm of the dream world, watched over by a council of men and the animal shaped “shepherds”. Something has been killing the shepherds, hunting them down, and that something is the TetherMen, gas-masked creatures in dark suits. As the council is scattered one member, Tom Wauters, goes on a quest to find the one that will bring an end to the encroaching darkness. It’s a time-travel type of story, twisting about through the neural pathways of dreams.
Also included in this comic is a short called Kings of Stone, one of which makes an appearance in the TetherMen, and which details certain moments that have been witnessed by the great statues of the earth. The Moai, or Easter Island statues, the Sphinx, and the terra-cotta army in China are only a couple of the “kings” in the story, but each page has a short description of what happened in front of their ever-staring eyes.
And now to the art, which Matt Bellisle has taken to a whole new level. His pen and ink work is fantastic, the cover alone is proof of that, where he blends the gasmask and the face of an elephants together, but it’s the presentation of the book itself that really makes this an amazing indie title.
(Stay tuned for some boring, but I think necessary, comic book financial stuff.)
If you don’t understand how the market plays out I explain briefly. (This is a review, and I’m coming to that.) I looked up the year-end market share report from Diamond Distributors from 2013. Marvel and DC (that fabled “big 2”) split about 66% of the overall retail market. The next 20% went to Image, Dark Horse, and IDW. Boom! Studios and Dynamite took a couple of percentage points for themselves. And the rest…the 11% or so that remained, was split between all of the remaining publishers. So when you’re publishing a book on your own…well, the chance that it makes a splash somewhere in that 11%.
So you’re writing a comic, wondering how to set it apart, how to make it worth your while and still put out a product you’re proud to sign. Mr. Bellisle basically printed his comic on a sheet of card stock, the whole about the size of a poster board, each “page” 6 x 9.75, cut out of the whole and slipped into a neatly stamped sleeve. The pages are loose, with one side the TetherMen story and the other the Kings of Stone. I was immediately taken with this genius way of presenting the book, and truth be told, was going to buy it weather or not the story was good. It was a bonus that the story was captivating and intense, and that the art was a grey scale tour de force.
Matt Bellisle has changed the way I look at comics with TetherMen. Not just in the expertly crafted story and fine artwork, but also in the clean and clever final product, which just begs to be opened up and read. (And assembled like a jigsaw puzzle on the floor.) TetherMen is an indie at the top of the 11% and Matt Bellisle should be counted among the forefront of successfully experimental comic creators.
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 put up with his incessant prattling about comic books.
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