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Breakneck Fantasy Anthology

Kickstarter’s an amazing platform for self-publishing comics. I’ve been turned on to some projects recently, backed a couple, backed a few… backed a few more. Like comics themselves, backing one project leads to backing two and before you know it you’re in deep. Happily, ‘in deep’ roughly translates to getting a bunch of cool comics and feeling good about supporting super-talented, super-indie creators.

One Kickstarter project that caught my attention recently is a black-and-white fantasy anthology comic called Breakneck. I know, I just reviewed a Duane Swiercynski crime comic called Breakneck — no connection, but cool coincidence!

The first issue of Breakneck Fantasy is being funded on Kickstarter even as I write this, and as I understand it the project has hit base funding (in one day, them’s braggin’ rights!) and is now working on stretch goals to improve the final product.

Breakneck Fantasy is five stories, all more or less classically Fantasy in the early-80s heavy metal album cover sense, but each done in a style both distinct, and distinctly different. The only unifying element beyond the shared genre is the quality of product — I was decidedly impressed with each story, though some may land better than others, depending on personal tastes. I know I have my favorites, but there’s really not a bad one in the book.

Overall design of this anthology comic is strong, with a clean logo that is slightly stylized and reminiscent of things ye olde, while managing to remain quite restrained. Of the multiple cover options planned for Breakneck Fantasy, all have the same title design and feature striking cover images. Several covers represent their chapter and there’s a primary cover that is absolutely stunning.

The fourth cover, by my new favorite new artist with the cool single name Sinnerman, is reserved as an exclusive for this Kickstarter project. Just drool at that Wolves cover painting!

Inside we have another well-designed, clean title page with table of contents and credits. I like it all and admire the high professionalism displayed in the logo design, by Brigel Zhuka, and graphic design, from Gerald von Kahr.

One small nitpick; each story could have been well served with a title to help introduce it and smooth the transition between tales. While each story is indeed done in a dramatically different art style from the next, a title and credits on the first page to each tale would really help with the ‘packaging’.

I was reminded of the old Heavy Metal magazines and other weird counterculture comics-y magazines I discovered here and there as a teenager, usually near the skin mags in the shady back area in those a weird old bookstores that no longer exist. If you remember them, you know what I mean — old wooden bins of yellowing magazines about strange and esoteric topics, endlessly fascinating in my teenage years. Too quiet, this place, just you and the dude who owns it, who watches you all smug-knowingly, like he’s certain you’re just aching to stuff a couple of those scary-intense European porno mags into your backpack.

Wow, sorry, went down a memory hole there. Where was I? Yessir, I kinda wish Breakneck Fantasy was going to be magazine-sized with soft gray newsprint, but while it will end up being standard comic book format, it brings the spirit of those old fantasy comics magazines!

The book begins with a very modern and kinetic manga-feeling story, adorable in visuals and tone as teenage witches duel for dominance, in When I Freeze Hell Over, by Marco del Forno, Reed Hinckley-Barnes and Chris Moses. The story features dynamic camera angles, exciting (if at times, slightly confusing) action artwork, confidently rendered and starkly inked. The characters are completely adorable and feature delightful facial expressions, sly Cicle and furious Trixxie.

Following that strong start we have my personal favorite of the book, Sinnerman and Craig Dawson’s simply-titled Meat (which does actually carry a title and credits). This story would be completely at home in any classic issue of Heavy Metal or Epic Illustrated. The art floored me, a superb mix of confident, exaggerated cartooning in a shaded-pencil style that evokes without question a very specific nostalgia. The character designs and setting are whimsical while still being serious fantasy with a brutal reminder that trolls will eat anything, followed by an EC-style twist ending.

Our palate cleanser is Jack and Beans, a light, Smurfs-like story from Dexter Morrill and Victor Santiago. While not my favorite, it features strong line work in a Saturday-morning cartoon style, though the inking could use a little more attention here and there. It’s a fun adventure with an elf, an ogre and a dragon. There is talent here that I a hope to watch develop in future issues.

Perhaps our most outright serious story comes next, Tale of Zarron by Elizabeth Mkheidze. An elvin (halfling?) child dreams of the tragedy that left them orphaned, injured and lost. It’s scary and sad and feels promisingly like the first chapter in a longer story that I hope to follow.

The closing tale is Krypt Sisters, by Ignacio di Meglio and Gerald von Kahr, another hands-down winner featuring Amelia, Caitlyn and Bridgette Krypt, no-nonsense, monster-busting sisters representing the Grimm Society. I love the design work, from Bridgette and her over-the-top-sexy Puritan outfit, to powerful Amelia with her armor and shield, to Caitlyn and her massive-spear hurling crossbow. The line art is strong and confident, enhanced with particularly arresting texturing representing rainstorm in an opening battle scene of Amelia versus demon. I was very taken with the sense of motion and energy in those pages, and the transition to Bridgette’s gleeful blaster-pistoling the demon-raising cultists.

In his heartfelt closing essay, editor Gerald von Kahr discusses his love of fantasy and comics and he talks a little about how the book came to life, before ending with some fantasy fiction movel recommendations. I particularly enjoyed that there’s at least some odd choices, not all your standard stuff. Well, the one I am familiar with, that is (The Grey Bastards, by Jonathan French — basically Sons of Anarchy, but with Ogres — trust us!).

Also promised are future letters columns and other exciting back-matter content, which is a great, optimistic attitude showing that the editorial team is looking forward to the next issue even while the first is underway. I’d love to see future issues as this team develops their skills. I’m sure they’re as bursting with ideas and plans as they are with energy and talent.

If any of this sounds like a project you can get behind, I invite you to swing by the Breakneck Kickstarter page and throw down a pledge! You can grab a digital issue reward for as little as $6 or get a printed copy for around $10, plus shipping. Obviously if the project really speaks to you, there are support tiers with comparable rewards for higher sums. Keeping in mind that much of the reward is intangible (being an actual patron of the arts!) these aren’t exorbitant prices for a super-independent comic like this.

I wish all involved in Breakneck Fantasy Anthology the best of luck with this exciting project!

Max Cage, for Here We Are Now, Entertain Us and The Wednesday Pull List

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