Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Fanbase Press has one of the great unheralded stories of the comic-book publishing world. Run by Los Angeles-based husband-and-wife team Bryant and Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press has been putting out top-notch content for the past several years. The company’s first two titles, Identity Thief and Something Animal, were both painterly explorations of dark psychosis. Since those releases, they’ve steadfastly sought out new works by talented writers and illustrators, with impressive results.
I’ll get to their newest release, the incandescent Quince, in a moment, but I’m not yet done singing the praises of the company as a whole. Full disclosure: Bryant, Barbra, and the whole team at Fanbase are old friends of mine, and they’re also producing an audio drama adaptation of my novel, The Odds.
The Arcs, a brawny remix of Biblical myth, follows Heaven’s army of archangels as they try to hold it together after God unexpectedly vanishes. For me, author Michael D. Poisson’s book is a thoughtful look at military culture—how can a bunch of grunts, heretofore used to taking orders, morph into special forces without the proper training? The title’s also noteworthy for Matt Jacobs’ maniacally rich artwork. Bizarro visions of the afterworld slither and seethe off every page. I liken Jacobs’ work to the demented illustrations of Chick publications—and I mean that as a grand-high compliment. There’s a crazed commitment to Jacobs’ artwork, a dense, unhinged artistry that communicates heightened emotional states with the same dark energy as James O’Barr.
Penguins versus Possums is a goofy-sounding title whose goofiness begins and ends with that very title—everything that comes after is told in the tone of a high myth whispered around a campfire. Writer Sebastian Kadlecik—who created Quince—draws on the down-home, gritty, indie-pulp tradition of Eastman and Laird as he chronicles an age-old war between two species. Like I said, it’s a silly set-up, but the dead-serious delivery results in a sober meditation on the futility of wars, blood feuds, grudges—pretty much, longform hate in all its myriad, ever-metastisizing configurations. The best way I can describe it is this: Imagine if the high-tech Doozers waged war on the Luddite Fraggles, and it raged for centuries. Now imagine that story told with the epic, grimfaced dignity of King Lear. That’s Penguins versus Possums. (And to be fair, the title includes its share of humor. It’s a thumping good read.)
I could go on, but I still need to talk about Quince, don’t I? My point in holding forth at such length about the company’s previous titles is not only to underline the strength of their catalogue, but also to heap praise on the creative team for taking such daring chances on new talent and new stories.
Which brings me to Quince. I got to read the first issue, and my goodness—it’s a gem. Kadlecik (who takes a “created by” credit and came up with the idea) teams up with writer Kit Steinkellner and artist Emma Steinkellner to deliver a limited series that takes the venerable trope of “superpowers as metaphor for adolescence, puberty, and incipient adulthood,” and marries it with a charming portrait of a multigenerational family.
Here’s the pitch: Lupe is your average Hispanic teenage girl who’s eagerly awaiting her quinceañera. For the uninitiated, a quinceañera is a tradition with roots in the Latin American world that honors a girl when she turns fifteen, usually with a big party.
But on Lupe’s fifteenth birthday, she suddenly develops superpowers. She later learns that she’ll have these powers for next year. Quince will drop on the fifteenth of every month, published in English- and Spanish-language editions.
I want to tap the brakes at this point and acknowledge that although I adored Quince, I’m not the best person to review it. I’m a white guy who grew up in the south, and I’d never heard of a quinceañera until I moved to Los Angeles. That said, Quince’s a story with a laser-specific focus that speaks to everyone. We’ve all been teenagers. We’ve all been bored. We’ve all looked forward to rites of passage with giddy dread. Moreover, Lupe’s family includes folks who’ll look familiar to most of us—parents who alternately delight and mortify her, a big brother who pranks her, a little sister who worships her.
But Lupe’s family also includes a multigenerational element that was absent from my life: her grandmother lives with her. In my adult life, I’ve come to learn that Latin American culture includes a deep reverence for previous generations, for the elderly, for the wisdom that only comes from having lived life. (For my part, I’ve looked on such traditions and values with admiration and a bit of envy—but that’s a different discussion.)
In any event, here’s what I’m driving at: Quince is at once universal and representative. It’s told with a playful, storybook tone that’s age-appropriate—I’d give the book a “G”-rating so far—but at the same time, that playful tone doesn’t keep the writers from making the occasional incisive point, such as when Lupe notes that “superheroes are basically always white people.” It explores themes that anyone can relate to, while at the same time, it foregrounds people, cultures, and traditions that rarely take center stage in superhero comics.
It’s also simply delightful. Emma Steinkellner’s artwork could proudly stand alongside Fiona Staples’ best work in Saga, while Kit Steinkellner’s writing perfectly captures the hectic, quantum-leaping rhythm of a teenage girl’s headspace.
It’s got my highest recommendation, as does the entire catalogue at Fanbase Press.
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.