As will be of no surprise to any of you, I love indie comics as much as I love the big-name publishers and in fact, I tend to review and discuss much more small-publisher stuff than what’s coming from the big guys. That’s as much a tendency to align myself with the underdog as anything, but also a healthy dose of wanting to signal-boost something that might otherwise get overlooked.
At the same time, I also read a lot of old comics, especially lately. I have countless volumes of reprinted material from the Silver and Golden Ages of comic books, an eclectic collection haphazardly assembled over the years and while appreciated, until recently largely unread. So one of my methods of coping with the chaos of recent years has been dancing through my shelves and happily sampling from the older and more innocent works upon them.
And wouldn’t you know it, but I am finding connections. Nothing revelatory, nothing that I can even quantify, really. It’s similarities in attitude, I guess. There is a raw energy and talent expressed on the page by today’s ambitious rookie comics creators that’s incredibly similar to the efforts produced in the early days of the entertainment form, by then-raw amateurs now very much appreciated for the foundations they laid.
I think it’s the rough-edged rawness of concept, story and art, overflowing with awkward potential. There’s an eagerness and an earnestness that compels attention. I read it and I get a thrill at watching the development of talent and style over time, as creative types grow confident and start finding their style and voice. One such talent is Carter Mann, and the opportunity is IMMORTAL ORPHANS. Be warned, this one gets weird.
I desperately want to talk through the increasingly bizarre and awesome plot twists that develop and characters we meet, but obviously there’s a lot I don’t want to spoil. Just now, flipping again through the issues on tablet, I find myself going “what the fu…” and flipping back to re-read a few pages. What I can best say to prepare you for IMMORTAL OPHANS is this.
You catch a glimpse of a fully-developed fantasy world delivered by a creator who is learning comic book storytelling even as the first issues unfold; his enthusiasm is evident on every page, his story is strange and compelling, his characters are offbeat — as Carter Mann’s story drew me in and claimed my interest, it unfolded with growing clarity, an effect of improvements and developments to his art style over the course of the early issues.
There are generations of backstory hinted at, connections sketched out across related storylines separated by two hundred years and yet no time at all. And it’s absolutely, gleefully comic-book loony.
IMMORTAL ORPHANS appears to be Mann’s first comics work, but he’s definitely not a stranger to storytelling, because from the outset I found his to be strong. With his very clear idea of the characters and setting, he starts unfolding a narrative with surprising confidence. Stylistically eccentric caption boxes describe situations and relationships in an uncomfortably intimate style, like someone next to you on the bus, reading over your shoulder and making a comment.
Another example of the calmly weird in this book is when we meet the Hawaiian-shirted Monster, his half-human, half demon-skull face is barely commented upon (the caption reads “unsightly yes-man to Julien Durand”) and his name is apparently unremarkable in-story, only mentioned when he corrects his intern from calling him “Mr.” Monster. The intern, of course, wears a tee shirt with INTERN printed on the front. (Check out the intern’s tattoo — worst game of tic-tac-toe ever.)
This is in the 2220 timeline; there’s another primary story thread running 200 years later, plus flashback scenes to times before and between.
I did say this was complex, didn’t I?
I also enjoy Mann’s humorous asides, like one character wondering why no one else finds it weird that Gannion’s clothes have also become whole after he quick-heals from being shot, or pretty much everything to do with Murder Cat.
I did need to overcome an initial response to the artwork. I confess, my knee-jerk reaction to the first issue was “amateurish but cute” and while that description still applies to some of the comic, it’s incomplete. Just as on first read-through of issue #1, I thought “complicated… lotta stuff going on here…” after my second read I found myself thinking “complex! lotta stuff going on, here!”
Like the story, the art is earnest and wholly committed. The development of Mann’s skills from the first to the fourth issues is impressive!
IMMORTAL ORPHANS is digitally self-published for a low $2 an issue through Amazon, where it’s also included in your Kindle Unlimited membership, if you have one. Carter Mann can be found on Patreon and Twitter and has also created a very cool YouTube summary video (10 minutes long!) linked below, that sets the scene of our world and timelines, reviewing much of the world-building you’ll enjoy over the four issues currently available. Honestly, I found Mann’s world-building so naturally delivered, I’d hold off on watching the video until after you’ve read the comics. Then read them again after watching the video, that’s the business right there!
I enjoyed IMMORTAL ORPHANS #1-4 and I am definitely on board to read what Mann has planned for this weird band of unlikely companions. He’s said he expects the full first story to take ten or twelve issues to tell and I want to see this guy’s skills continue to develop through the telling of a story that is obviously demanding that he tell it.
That Carter Mann is doing all of this himself, his way and on his terms, is pretty goddamn inspirational. This is just what I needed right now; not only a good comic that I can enjoy and think about and share with you, but to see some schmoe just throw themselves out there with such confidence and enthusiasm, is personally therapeutic during this time of such stress. And because so much content is generated all the time, and because I have your attention for a fleeting moment, I am happy to inform you about Carter Mann’s IMMORTAL ORPHANS.