Creator: Joel Zabel
Known Associates Press, August 2022
This independent publication, written and drawn by Joel Zabel, is an anthology. Anthologies are usually a collection of stories written or drawn by various people, but in this instance, Mr Zabel flies solo with six separate tales covering a very wide number of themes.
First, on the art. Mr Zabel draws in a certain style which favourably reminds us very much of Jill Thompson’s work on The Sandman: Brief Lives (published by Vertigo comics back in 1994). And Mr Zorbel seems to be a master of composition. The Alice-in Wonderland-esque Teresa’s Dilemma (the third story) could be straight out of the age of fantastic and zany Silver Age stories, where the perspective and focus is on the miniaturised character rather than the ordinary-sized character.
The enchanting Reynard and the Water Nymph has for the most part the perspective of the story-telling fox. Much thought clearly went into the page layouts, which suit the theme of each story. The colours are also meticulously chosen. Teresa’s Dilemma features 1950s browns and tans, and Reynard and the Water Nymph is beautifully coloured in the tones of the forest.
The first three stories, and the last, Gladys has Finally Cracked, Follow, Teresa’s Dilemma, and Two Kinds of People, are each fuelled by sly humour. Teresa’s Dilemma in particular gives away much in the daydreams of a bored housewife. Follow is probably the weakest of the lot, ending with a shrug of shoulders by both the main character and the reader. Two Kinds of People provides an exit for both reader and the secondary character – we all jump out of the book – with a wordplay guaranteeing a smirk. It seems obviously with the benefit of hindsight, and it is funnier for it. It is not only Mr Zabel who flies solo in that episode.
Reynard and the Water Nymph is a stand-out fantasy comic story, and could easily have been a back-up feature in The Sandman. Here, Reynard the fox begs a favour of an exiled water nymph, and has to rely not upon cunning but upon his skills as an historian of the small victories of the forest to win back his health. The nymph understands the cost of granting a boon upon a forest hunter, but, like all deities, is concerned primarily with herself. Your reviewer read it several time with delight. We wish this story had been more fulsome – could we also not have heard the fox’s stories in full? – and hope to see a sequel one day.
The best story is The Music Box. It is desperately sad. We usually have no hesitation in giving away spoilers but this particular story deserves preservation of its twist. The characters act in abnormal ways – Thomas walks out on his wife Jessica and evening dinner to accompany Lucy, someone who immediately seems to be Thomas’ former partner, on a wild goose chase to an antique shop. The nature of Jessica’s understanding of this is a mystery. Save for an all-too-scant three panels, the story is doused in pale blue. The furrowed expressions and tired eyes frame that which is unseen. It makes perfect, mournful sense by the end. This story is executed with incredible subtlety.
More information about Mr Zabel and this terrific anthology is available at http://www.joezabel.com .