Saturday, March 31, 2012

Archaia Comics: An Amazing Comic Publisher You May Never Heard Of

Up until WonderCon, the only one of the titles that I'd heard of, from very far corners of some of my geek circles, was the Mouse Guard series by David Petersen. But I never ventured off into the realm until last month when I came across the Archaia booth. As I searched through the different graphic novels they offered, I began wondering why I had never really heard of them before. The incredibly intriguing thing, and the thing I love the most, is how much creative freedom their creators are given. Many of their titles are fully drawn and written by the creator, while others work with only their closest collaborators. It gives these books a very different feel from the major comic publishers. There's no crossovers that connect the different series they offer, no real publisher interference that you seem in some cases, nothing like that. This is real, unadulterated, creative freedom at it's finest. It's made me really fall in love with this publisher and the things they put out.

The thing that initially drew me to them was when I took notice of their line of Jim Henson property comics. As I walked by, I noticed that they had a series of Fraggle Rock books, and as I continued to look around, I realized that wasn't the only Henson property that Archaia had. They were also doing series for The Storyteller, a prequel for The Dark Crystal, and have begun work on a prequel for Labyrinth! Having access to the Henson vault in the way they do really helped put this company on the map for me, and to have them getting to continue some of my favorite TV series and movies of all time, it was hard not to fall in love with this company. The series are handled with great care, and are all signed off by the Henson estate, meaning they have their official seal of approval. That's a big deal, and It really makes this books that much more special. But these are the only Henson titles that Archaia has. There is one very interesting book that you should definitely pique the interest of fans.

The comic in question is called Tale of Sand, and is actually an Jim Henson's unrproduced screenplay he had been working on when he passed away. The Henson family actually gave Archaia the rights to finally see Henson's final work brought to life, and it's quite the interesting read, and would have been an excellent movie. The story revolves around a man who wakes up in the middle of a small town, not sure where he is, who begins a journey across the midwest, where people and things are after him. It's a very bizarre and cool tale in only the way a Henson tale can be, and is very much like a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas style tale that I absolutely fell in love with. For Henson fans, this is a huge deal to finally get one last glimpse into the mind of a creative genius, and I can personally say it was great to have one final Henson story to read. The writing in the book is actually from his scribbled notes of his original script, which makes the story much that better to read. And as of this posting today, it has been nominated for five Eisner awards! This is definitely something everyone should check out.

The great thing though is, even with all these great Henson titles, there is so much more than just that to choose from. Archaia really does some great work on titles you wouldn't see at some of the bigger publishers. They're very big on being creator friendly, and it shows. The heart and soul that these creators get to put into their series' of comics feels real and authentic. Many of them do all the writing and art themselves, while others work with very close friends on the material, getting the best possible outcome and creating the story they wanted to tell. There's so little interference, and it's great. And with no big crossovers or things that like that done by the company, none of the comics are forced to go in a certain direction to end a certain way. It's all natural feeling, and the comics all come to a proper closure. For me, it makes these comics really stand out, because with this much heart, soul, and freedom put into the comics, so much of anything is possible in the realm of what can be produced.

One of the most popular titles in the Archaia line is the title I mentioned earlier in my post, David Petersen's Mouse Guard. This is a series set in an a sort of alternate version of the early 1100s, where the history is very similar, but the world is full of animals instead of humans. Among all these animals and creatures is a small group of mice, known as the Mouse Guard, who took an oath to protect their fellow mice from anything. It's a fun and exciting read, and one of the most interesting stories I've read. It's a bit of a Lord of the Rings in style, and it's also very much family friendly and is something that everyone in your family could enjoy. They'll quickly follow in love with the characters in the story and Petersen's storytelling. It's definitely one of their most exciting series, and I definitely recommend it.

Another title I've quickly fallen in love with is Royden Lepp's Rust. This is a very cool tale about the Taylor family, who after a war between man and machine, live on their family farm and are having a hard time making ends meet. One day, a young man named Jet Jones comes crashing into their farm house. But he isn't alone. Quickly following behind is a giant robot that is after Jet, but why, we don't know. Jet quickly defeats the robot, but the mystery still lingers over exactly who Jet is, why the robot is chasing him, and why is he there now? The comic reads as a pulp fiction style adventure, with enough mystery and intrigue to keep you hooked. Lepp does all the art and writing himself, and it's brilliant. The comic is like a mix between Iron Man and The Rocketeer, and it looks like an old serial from the 30's and 40's. The art is completely sepia toned, with a very cinematic widescreen feel. The first volume, subtitled Visitor in the Field, really has me hooked, and is the first in a four part series. I can't wait to see where it goes.

Then we have a Roddenberry productions produced comic, Days Missing, which is one of the most intriguing science fiction tales I've read in some time. The story follows a man on the outside of time, who is an immortal that watches the world. He's been there since the beginning, and he changes the course of history by simply taking days out of history, changing the events of the earth forever. But we don't remember these days. There's no records of them, nothing that we remember. But now, we may be seeing what we missed. It's a very, very strong sci-fi story with the big moral questions that only Gene Roddenberry would ask, like he did in things like Star Trek. Things like do you let one person to die to save a thousand? It really makes you think, which is a very high compliment. This reads much like a look into Roddenberry's mind as Tales of Sand was the last look into Henson's. It's really a very interesting series, one that sci-fi and Roddenberry fans alike should pick up to read.

And deeper into the rabbit hole of the Archaia series you go, the more things you begin to find. Tumor, one of my favorite books by them, is like the old film noir films. Set in LA, it follows a private detective named Frank Armstrong who has an inoperable brain tumor. But as his final days begins, he is working on one last case, and he wants to make sure that this time, he will save the girl. But things aren't all well, as his senses are failing him and he begins to blackout during the story. Can he piece it all together? It's a great read, but one more for teens and adults. I'm a sucker for things like The Maltese Falcon, and this is right up my ally. We don't get a lot of stories or movies in this vein anymore, so I was glad to discover this one.

If you like Rod Serling, then you should look into Moon Lake, which is from the mind of Dan Fogler. It is a bit like Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, if it was on acid and a bit deranged. It's goofy and fun to read, but it's definitely bizarre, sort of weird, and great. It's an anthology book, and I almost hope one day Fogler will decide to do another. We have Okko, which is set in feudal Japan, but with a twist. It follows a group of demon hunting samurai who are on a mission to save a man's sister. It's very cool, very dark, and very much for mature audiences.  A personal favorite of mine is Revere, which is like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, but follows Paul Revere, who is a monster hunter, as he fights a war against a supernatural killer who has been attacking the people in Boston. It's some of the most fun I've had reading a comic in quite some time.

Of course, there is also Return of the Dapper Men, which is in a world where time has stopped. But one day, a group of mysterious dapper men arrive, and they are bent on setting things right. It almost feels like the inside of a Tim Burton dream, and it's quite the fun read. These are just a few of the titles that Archaia offers! There are so many more, including Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, which takes place during the original 1968 film, The Engineer which is a very Mike Mignola style and steam punk like book, The Grave Doug Freshley which is about a cowboy who is outrunning Death, the greatest gunslinger of all, and Syndrome, which is like a twist on The Truman Show, if the show was about a serial killer and the people in the town had no idea. The things that this company produces just really blow my mind. It's interesting seeing how many different stories they have told. No two comics they have done are the same. It's really remarkable.

Seriously, I could go on talking about the many titles that Archaia offers all day. I've become fully immersed in their back catalog of titles since WonderCon ended. They're such a great company, and the work they do is unparalleled by any of the big companies right now. Their books are the nicest printed books on the market, and they all come in beautiful hardcover bindings. When you open the books, from the first flap, you become immersed in the world that you're about to read. They set the tone quickly and sweep you off your feet into a new place. And these look great on a shelf together! These aren't cheap hardcovers, they're really nice. Like I said, they're some of the nicest books on the market right now.

With all the creative freedom the creators are giving, and the some of the nicest books you can buy, Archaia comics is really a company you should be looking into. They're a company that, I hope, many will learn about over the next few years, because they're definitely doing work that rivals their biggest competitors. Whenever I see a title from Archaia now, I'll know that it means there's quality behind it, and I can't wait to continue sifting through their catalog and discovering some new gems. Many of their comics, including Mouse Guard, Rust, and a few others have already been optioned to be films over the next few years as well. People are beginning to take notice of the awesome storytelling that Archaia is doing. Honestly, in all of this, I just hope I've convinced at least some of you to go out and try some of their comics. That's all I ask is that you give them a chance. Because frankly, they deserve your time and acknowledgement. If you want to look for yourself to see what they've got, check out, or find them on twitter at @Archaia, and on Facebok at Archaia Entertainment. Seriously guys, you won't regret it.

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