Saturday, August 20, 2011

Required Reading - "The Stuff of Legend"

On Free Comic Book Day in 2009, a good friend and I caught a matinee of "Watchmen." Oddly, that very movie is on TNT as I write this, but I digress. After watching the mostly-successful adaptation of the “unfilmable” Alan Moore classic, we had comics on the brain so we headed to a local comic and game shop to snag a few free books.

Upon entering the store we encountered the friendly face of comic book writer, Mike Raicht. Of course, at the time, we didn’t know who the hell Mike Raicht was or what he’d ever written, but it was clear that he was a comic creator will some success under his belt. After all, he had his published work stacked right there to prove it.

There was no one in line for Mike at the time, so we walked up and introduced ourselves, expecting a brief, “hi, how are you, here’s an autographed book, enjoy your day” conversation. Instead, Mike stood up, graciously introduced himself and struck up a conversation. For the next half hour, we discussed “Watchmen,” our pull lists and finally something Mike had been working on that he was pretty proud of: “The Stuff of Legend.”

A 20+ page preview edition of “Stuff,” which Raicht co-authors with Brian Smith, happened to be one of the offerings for Free Comic Book Day that year. He put a signed copy in my hands and said, “I hope you like it!” I walked out of that shop with a smile on my face from the interaction. I mean, I devote a great deal of my time to comics and it was just really exciting to have such a great conversation with someone who makes their living writing books.

Mike’s description of “Stuff” had me interested, but the concept seemed like it might be hard to pull off. To be honest, as great as Mike was, I didn’t have terribly high expectations for the book. Well, I’m happy to say that “Stuff” did more than win me over, it knocked me over.

Here’s a description of the book from Th3rd World Studio’s website:

“The year is 1944. An allied force advances along a war-torn beach in a strange land, outnumbered and far from home. Together, they fight the greatest evil they have ever known. Never ending waves of exotic enemies come crashing down on them, but they will not rest.

Thousands of miles away, the world is on the brink of destruction. But here in a child's bedroom in Brooklyn, our heroes, a small group of toys loyal to their human master, fight an unseen war to save him from every child's worst nightmare.

Led by the toy soldier known as the Colonel and the boy's faithful teddy-bear named Max, the toys enter the realm known as The Dark. There they will face off against the Boogeyman and his army-- a legion of the boy's forgotten, bitter toys. Fighting to survive insurmountable odds, the toys will discover this is a battle not only for the soul of a child, but for their own as well...”

See what I mean about being hard to pull off? Well, they do. Do they ever.

The tone of the book has this fantastically strange, off-putting feeling to it. You know that feeling that you had in the pit of your stomach when you watched “The Wizard of Oz” as a kid? That feeling you had just knowing that that the Wicked Witch could swoop in at any moment with those insanely creepy flying monkeys and pull all of your straw out? (…sorry, I was a Scarecrow sympathizer…) How about the unease that you felt waiting for the next kid to be drowned in liquid chocolate or turned into a blueberry and rolled away by those equally creepy oompa loompas in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?" Don’t even get me started on the freaking tunnel scene.

Well, that’s the tone that they nail in this book.

A large part of this should be credited to the art provided by the outstanding Charles Paul Wilson III and the design and color of Jon Conkling & Michael Devito. Kudos to who ever forged this creative team. Every contributor is bringing their best work and it all meshes extraordinarily well.

In addition to this vibe that surrounds all of the happenings in the Dark, the characters are incredibly well fleshed out. You’d expect all of the toys to follow the “Toy Story” formula: a group of really nice little toys who are all very nice and out to save the day. Well, this ain’t “Toy Story.” These toys need to deal with betrayal, love, violence, distrust and doubt. This is one of the great successes of “Stuff.” It turns your preconceived notions about these innocent playthings on their head at the drop of a hat. You truly don’t know what’s coming next or how the characters will react, and that always makes for great storytelling.

Other than the description that I’ve included from Th3rd World, I purposefully steered clear of any plotline spoilers. I would be doing you a great disservice by spoiling any of this great story. I can only recommend that you seek out these books, read them and recommend them to others yourself. This is the kind of book just shows what incredible things can be accomplished in the comic book medium.

The first issue of volume three of “The Stuff of Legend” was released this week. This go-around it’s “The Jester’s Tale.” The two previous volumes, “The Dark” and “The Jungle” are available in trade paperback at your local comic book shop. Note that the book is published in an odd little square-shaped size. Do not overlook it.

Thanks to Mike Raicht for creating and recommending this book two years ago, I’ve found one of those go-to books that I can thoroughly enjoy myself and pass on to anyone without reservation. Oh, and by the way, “The Stuff of Legend” is definitely not unfilmable, as "Watchmen" just might have been. Just saying…

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