Zarjaz 15 review by Steven Denton
Cover by Edmund Bagwell
Edmund Bagwell’s line work is very good (it’s like if you found half of D’Israeli and half of Jeff Smith in a box and you glued them together to make a Smith-D’Israeli art monster). If I have any criticism of this wraparound artwork, it’s that the back cover composition doesn’t really stand up when viewed in isolation.
Judge Dredd: Finding Mino by Mark J Howard, Alex Paterson and Bolt-01
The artwork by Alex Paterson is consistently well-done, with clean, clear storytelling and bags of energy. I don’t like his Dredd chin; I can’t really read it as Dredd; but other than that I was more than a little impressed with Paterson and would class him as prog-worthy. The writing for the first segment is good, maybe even very good. The premise is simple yet effective and the pacing and tone are pitch-perfect. Even though the story has loose ends, it feels complete and packs a genuine emotional punch. I found the second half far less satisfying; it has some nice interaction between Dredd and an inept junior Judge but feels otherwise uninspired. It feels familiar and after the impressive high of the first episode it’s a bit of a let-down. Sure, the second half wraps up two-thirds of the loose ends but it doesn’t feel necessary and it doesn’t leave the first part feeling any more complete.
Mega-City One Tales: Gawkers by Shaun Avery, Simon Bennett Hays and Bolt-01
Gawkers has a real Mega City One feel to it, the bored citizens recklessly chasing any thrill or fame that the law will allow them with no thought or morality or consequence. Simon Bennett Hays has storytelling skills and although his work is rough around the edges it gets the job done. The script depicts the callous, spoilt rich kids of Mega City One’s upper-class well, drawing parallels with addiction without ramming them home in too heavy-handed a fashion. The last frame is, however, a little unclear.
Tales from the Black Museum: Jinni in a Bottle by Richmond Clements, Stephen Prestwood & Bolt-01
The highlight of this competently-told tale, for me, was the unhelpful psi judge and her well-observed, vague, ‘extra-sensory perception.’ The dialogue from the Judges and the curator raise the story’s entertainment level above the relatively straight-forward plot with a slightly confusing last frame. The artwork, by small press stalwart Steven Prestwood, is easy to read and consistent. I would however like to see him push his art further; I think there is some real skill there but it’s hidden under a series of familiar poses and angles.
Judge Dredd: the Taking of Mopad 456 by Lee Robson, Kev Levell and Bolt-01
The Taking of Mopad 456’s script is, in my opinion, too thin and too familiar. There is nothing wrong with it but it has nothing I’ve not seen Dredd do a fair number of times before and the ‘punchline’ really didn’t help. The art is well-executed and at times stylish, although the grey wash is a little too muddy for my taste. Kev Levell is a top-tier small press artist and clearly has a lot of talent and skill, which always raises my expectations. I always feel I should be more impressed with his work then I actually am; there is nothing wrong with it, in fact there is a lot right with it, but it just doesn’t grab me. What I’m trying to say is this story was a miniature steam train where I was expecting a breakneck rollercoaster; I feel slightly underwhelmed.
Mega-City One Tales: It’s Good to Talk by Shaun Avery, Nora Rodriguez and Bolt-01
I’m really not sure what to say about this story. The art has a traced photograph look mixed with muddy smudged greys that that I find unappealing. I understand the storytelling and Rodriguez only randomly broke frame once. The story, I think, has serious issues at its core. It’s about a man who is unable to emotionally connect with his girlfriend so he vandalises a bar and spends some time in prison to sort his relationship out. I’m not sure this works as a Mega City One tale as cubes aren’t where detached and isolated young men go to emotionally grow. And I’m not sure how many contemporary relationships would be helped by random acts of violence followed by a stretch in prison.
Armitage: the Soze Method by Sampson Horn and Paul Vaughan
I really like seeing art like this in the small press; there is a ton of enthusiasm and energy and, dare I say, love, in every frame. It’s easy to hold the small press up to pro standard and criticise the figure work or the perspective, but one thing you shouldn’t be able to call into question is the love. The artwork raises the story from a fairly thin film reference to a kind of fever dream. The one thing I didn’t like was the lettering. It’s all odd balloon placements and awkward tails; on the first page, one tail cuts across Armitage’s face right into his mouth, like he’s chewing it. Bad lettering at best makes a strip look extremely amateur and at worst makes it unreadable. If you haven’t devoted the necessary time to learning how to letter, you are far better off leaving it to someone who has.
Judge Dredd: Big Jimpin’ by Lee Robson David Broughton and Bolt-01
This is a perfectly reasonable Dredd story that with better storytelling would have been of a comparable level to Gawkers and Jinni. As it is, it feels cramped and a bit cluttered. The script is a fairly interesting take on Jimping, opting for a more voyeuristic and less violent reading then we often see. There are a few frames where Robson has probably crammed in too many balloons and captions but it’s hard to tell because where the storytelling is really questionable is in the art. Frames are broken and borders rejected for no clear design or storytelling purpose, which in turn encourages the lettering to span what should be distinct frames. A good example is frame one of page two, which is also frame two (unless a second Judge Dredd is calling Control whilst floating in the air ten feet behind the first Judge Dredd.) The front wheel of the hovering Lawmaster breaks the bottom border into frame four, which has no border with frame three. This physically connects all four frames into one. It reads as a jumble and is the same throughout. Borders look like they have been broken because the artist has run out of space every time a rogue head, foot or hand breaks frame. The whole thing looks cramped and cluttered and at times it’s difficult to follow. Big Jimpin’ shows plenty of promise in the art but isn’t there yet.
You can buy Zarjaz 15 from here.