(Source Point Press 2015)
Writer - Travis McIntire
Artist - Stephen Sharar
Colorist - Sean Seal
Letterer - Joshua Werner
There is a lot to say about Up the River #1. First off, it’s a Kickstarted indie title. It is most definitely a labor of love by those involved. Each person involved is at the start of their career in comic making, and although that might sound like a negative thing, it isn’t. These guys are bringing pro level quality (already), and on top of that, they have the enthusiasm of young creators striving to make their mark. They are bringing their ‘A game’ and it shows. The are not messing around, not phoning it in. As I understand it, this series is a planned 21 issue run. Very ambitious for an indie title, but I think these guys can do it. I have witnessed their determination first hand, and I am impressed.
So, enough about the status of the creators, you just need to know that they are very good, and very hungry. Let’s talk about the book itself. I’ve only seen the first issue, so I don’t want to predict too much until we start to see where this is heading, but for now, I can say that it is a genre bender. It has elements of horror, with a sprinkling of superhero. There is sci-fi, post apocalypse elements as well as some influence by Mark Twain with some mystery thrown in. I really can’t think of anything quite like it. There is a lot left unexplained so far, and things hinted at for the future. You can tell that they have this mapped out, and they are just getting started.
How about the tone? Well, it’s gory. While coloring, Sean Seal spent a lot of time with his color picker parked in the red zone. It’s got a fair amount of blood and death in the first issue, some brutal and heavy situations, and is unapologetically about it. The horror elements are there, but in my estimation not exploitatively so. That is just the tone of the book. So, if you don’t like blood and guts, it might not be for you. If you don’t mind that stuff, come on board the boat ride down the red river, you’ll be glad you did.
Travis McIntire’s writing is great here, in that it gives you all the clues you need to follow along, without having to pad everything with exposition. When they mention “tabs” as a form of currency for instance, you might wonder what that is slang for. Before too long, you are given the answer, but only if you are paying attention and connecting the dots. That is the kind of “show don’t tell” method of world building that in my opinion leads to a more successfully and richly fleshed out fictional world. McIntire gives us enough action and story building and characterization in one issue to feel like we have a firm grasp on who the players are, what this new world is like, while leaving plenty of unanswered questions leaving us wanting issue #2 as soon as you set down #1.
Stephen Sharar has a very polished pro level quality to his art. Tackling both pencils and inks, he is adept at everything a comic illustrator needs to know. From page design and story flow all the way down to his textures and inking line. He’s good. I’ve seen enough of his stuff to recognize it pretty easily, but I’ve had a hard time deciding what his influences are. He definitely belongs square in the realm of superhero art (in my eyes). He has enough skill that I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him working for the big two before long. There are times that I got a kind of Ron Lim feel from his art. I think I see some 90’s mainstream influence in there somewhere… which is not to say that it looks dated or has any of the pitfalls of some of those 90’s books that make us cringe now a days. I just get the feeling that was the ‘era’ that was an early influence to him. I could be wrong. His art is crisp, clean, easy to read, and very professional looking.
Sean Seal on coloring duties brings a lot to the table. I’ve seen lot of Sean’s work elsewhere, and I am impressed every time. A great illustrator in his own right, and a hell of a painter, Seal has a whole bunch of skills at his disposal. He is also very prolific. His coloring is very good. You can tell he puts the time in. It has a kind of shaded, molded look to it that really brings the art to life. It’s digital painting masquerading as coloring. Like I said above, lots of reds, lots of darker colors (in sequences at night) give it a distinct palette. I hope that future issues are set in situations that give him a chance to explore the full color range.
A little about the lettering. It’s hard to praise good lettering sometimes, because when it’s at its best, you don’t even notice it. Werner does a fine job of a professional letterer, and does some cool effects with the sound effects and crowd cheering. His balloon placement is spot on and basically, as a good letterer; he stays out of the way. I have seen so many bad lettering jobs, or even decent ones that have pulled me out of the story by making a glaring mistake or confusing balloon placement, that basically the best thing you can say for a letterer is “oh yeah, I forgot you were even there”. Werner’s letters provide that kind of seamless flow that make you just forget and absorb the writing, follow the story and get sucked in. I just thought I would highlight how every member of the team from top to bottom did a very successful job. Bad lettering can mar an otherwise great looking book, and Werner is having none of that.
Bottom line, this book is vibrant, and very well done. The people involved are some very invested indie guys who are doing some very high level work. Do not let the lack of a logo from one of the big two dissuade you from checking this out. This book is of a quality that trumps plenty of comics that I have seen come out of the more established corporate brands. It’s worth the price of admission and then some. I personally can’t wait to see where it goes from here. Highly recommended for anyone with a stomach for gory action, and an appetite for great art and great storytelling.
To get a copy of Up The River, go to http://sourcepointpress.blogspot.com
BJ DuVall is a novice comic creator, and nerd. He likes to spout opinions, whether people like to listen or not. Usually not.