Modestly billing itself as a “12-page three color risograph scifi comic,” Brooklyn-based cartoonist Austin MacDonald’s self-published mini The Emperor’s Chamber certainly is all of those things, but it sells itself short by not, at the very least, calling itself “charming” or “trippy” or “charmingly trippy” or something along those lines. It’s also more than a tad innovative in its transition from traditional line artwork to Claymation-styled digital (I’m assuming, at any rate) stuff and back again. But I suppose I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Still, that’s a good sign that I have a fair degree of enthusiasm for this gorgeously-produced little comic (all rich riso tones that absolutely sing on the parchment-style paper stock MacDonald uses), and so I do : it’s simple, sure, but agreeably so, and utilizes what I’ll call for lack of a better term “Peow Studio-style art” much more effectively than many a publication from Peow Studio itself, so yeah — I was impressed. Certainly MacDonald demonstrates a slid grasp of visual storytelling principles and is making real progress from one project to the next — Finger Flip! was fun, his contribution to the Weird Futures anthology was even better, and with this he continues to up the ante, as well as find his footing and a unique authorial voice.
Which isn’t to say this story about an understandably disgruntled member of the palace guard who follows our titular emperor behind a curtain into his equally-titular chamber and discovers a mystical realm beyond his imaginings (as well as the reason the kingdom’s ruler appears so utterly zonked-out half the time) is in any way original, but that’s okay — MacDonald’s approach to the material is, and more often than not that’s plenty sufficient when one is plying their trade in a shop-worn genre such as fantasy.
In a pinch, then, what I’m saying — or at least attempting to — is that MacDonald’s eye-catchingly cool multi-media art really does imbue these proceedings with a sense of the fantastic and that his wry, understated wit grounds them in relatability. It’s the best of both worlds in a tidy, concise, carefully-crafted little package that literally doesn’t waste a line — of art or dialogue.
One could be forgiven, I suppose, for thinking this all sounds a bit “old wine in new bottles,” and maybe it is, but shit — it’s still wine, and that stuff’s pretty good. The same can be said for a well-constructed genre story, and if I’m being completely honest here (hell, it’s my blog, so there’s no reason not to be), I’m actually more than a bit tempted to call this an impeccably-constructed genre story. Or perhaps I just did. What matters even more, though, is that I think you, dear reader, are likely to feel the same once you’ve read it.
So read it you should, and I earnestly hope that you will. MacDonald is an interesting and exciting emerging talent well worth keeping an eye on, as well as somebody who knows how to make a comic that is both marvelous to look at and fun to read. If there’s a long-form epic of some sort percolating away in his mind, that’s terrific and I’ll be more than game to check it out, but if he wants to continue honing and developing his skills with more short-form works, there’s certainly no shame in that. The world needs more comics like this one, and I think this cartoonist has more of them in him.
The Emperor’s Chamber is available for $6.00 from Austin MacDonald’s Storenvy site at https://austinmacdonald.storenvy.com/products/34665784-the-emperor-s-chamber
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