Aw heck yeah, after a year’s hiatus I’m so excited to bring back Indie Comic Review. I love it when indie artist and writers approach me asking for reviews because I never know what I’m gonna get. It forces me to branch out and read something other than the conventional Big Two. And I was more than happy when Charles Stickney introduced me to the best reviewed coal mining, fantasy, horror, forbidden romance comic of 2017*. The art was grabbing so I decided to put on my hard hat and descend down White Ash’s mine.
White Ash is the story of Aleck, disenfranchised son of a coal miner who is ready to GTFO of his small coal miner town. However, on the day he’s set to leave, the coal mine suspiciously explodes. Aleck’s dad is hospitalized and fighting off infection. Meanwhile, Aleck, along with the mine owner’s daughter, the beautiful Lillian, investigate a suspect behind the mine’s explosion. And that’s where things get weird. As it turns out, the suspect is something of a demon and it’s no coincidence that he is in White Ash. In fact the whole town is grounded in a mythos similar to that of Lord of the Rings. Aleck learns of more surprising revelations…but I’ll save those for you to read.
The big (tongue in cheek) claim to fame is that it’s “the best reviewed coal mining, fantasy, horror, forbidden romance comic of 2017.” In fact it’s the only one. All joking aside, I do think this book would hold its own if creator Charley Stickney nominated it for some other more “valid” categories. I was particularly happy with the world building mythos of White Ash. This is especially prevalent in Issue #2. The “world building” is contained to the White Ash bubble. The mythology is behind White Ash is fairly sound, I hate it when the mythos is overly complex or riddled with plot holes. So chalk up White Ash as a “Best Fantasy Comic” darkhorse.
What’s more is that this takes place in modern times, which is a fresh take as opposed to a Middle Aged trudge of a read. Stickney has created the perfect sandbox to build stories within. Although I do hope he starts to write subplots soon, or else this story is gonna run dry, quick. Who else in town knows its secrets? What roles do these mythical beings play? If Stickney only follows Aleck and Lillian, it’s gonna be a huge missed opportunity. Take a lesson from Tolkien and start to create other story threads and weave them together. Katlyn and Cobb are good places to start, how do they respond the explosion (they’re not just gonna sit around are they?).
Speaking of story thread, the first two issues of White Ash are HEAVY in exposition. In fact, that’s my one large criticism of Stickney’s tale. The first two issues focused almost on entirely on laying ground work. Names, places and so forth. I feel like Stickney was so eager to introduce you to his Sandbox that he’s revealed quite a bit. Sorry, I don’t think White Ash would fare well in a “Mystery Comic” category. Stickney showed his hand a bit quickly.
But because the exposition is heavy and the ground work has been laid, you’re sucked in anyways. Maybe Stickney knew what he was doing, because his sandbox is pretty frickin’ cool. And the strength in concept is the one reason why I continued to read on and remain excited to read more. It truly is a unique story and I commend Stickney for that. A traditional story build is exposition, rising action, climax, yada yada. With White Ash, you’re given 95% exposition and 5% extreme action peppered in that keeps you hooked. Plus, Stickney has mastered the art of cliffhangers. Maybe I’m being a bit over-analytical, especially since Stickney managed to capture my full attention throughout the first two issues. Somebody stop me.
As for the art, I was really happy with Conor Hughes ability to develop characters. His people drawing skills are fantastic and are reminiscent of Tim Sale. Each character is unique and doesn’t look like a copied/pasted depiction. Lillian is especially well drawn. However, I do think Stickney is walking a fine line when it comes to sexually objectifying women. You can’t just make female characters sexy and proceed as planned. Lillian better become more than a just flirt soon or else I’m calling foul on Stickney. It’s 2018 guys c’mon. If you want to call this a romance, you gotta be careful and not make the main female lead a one-dimensional babe with minimal backstory. Hopefully the next few issues remedies this.
Sorry, back to the art. As I mentioned before. The art is well done and Hughes should be commended. He, when appropriate, added detail to the town of White Ash, but otherwise focused on the characters at play. He also did a great job in deviating is style whenever mythos was discussed. I do wish that they brought on an inker as opposed to what felt like a tag team effort between him and the colorist Fin Cramb. Inkers add a level of depth to a comic and can heighten the visual experience. Plus, a third creative can evolve the work in ways the other two hadn’t considered. The book is a bit 2D sans-inker, but still great nonetheless. * *
In conclusion, White Ash is truly a unique and refreshing setting worth a look. The modern, contained and well developed mythos of White Ash should prove to be a fun sandbox where Stickney can spin a cool story. If Stickney can develop characters (Aleck and Lillian are especially one dimensional right now) and integrate sub-plot lines, punch my ticket for a trip to White Ash. As for the art, Hughes absolutely nails the character creation and mythos style. However, he needs to back up Fin Cramb with an inker quick if he wants to elevate this book to a professional level. However, Stickney and Hughes have laid the ground work and I'm excited to see what they have in store next!
**Update: I followed up with Charles after posting this review to get his thoughts. I had a great conversation with him and really enjoyed our chat. He pointed out that he and Conor were aiming for a specific Archie-style comic art with cleaner lines. I think if that's the case they absolutely nailed it. Thus I bumped the score.
All images are used with permission from the writer, Charles Stickney. (c) 2018.