It’s always an absolute privilege to be asked to write the introduction to the published work of a creator we have championed here at Broken Frontier. In the case of 2016 Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘ artist Jey Levang and their collection Rebels and Other Stories from Throwaway Press last year it was a particular pleasure.
Levang first came to my attention, as have many small pressers over the last few years, with a number of perfectly paced twist-in-the-tale short stories in the pages of that most supportive anthology series Dirty Rotten Comics. You may also be familiar with their work from their webcomic collaboration HeLL(P) with C. Vinter, or last year’s BOOM! Studios horror thriller miniseries Lazaretto with writer Clay McLeod Chapman.
I say a lot in that foreword about Levang’s deservedly growing profile in indie comics and I’m going to try not to plagiarise myself too much in this review. But I fear some crossover will be inevitable. Rebels brings together twelve of Levang’s comic strips in both colour and black and white, and includes work from Dirty Rotten Comics and stories originally published in their native Norway. It concludes with ‘Detour’, which I’m duty-bound to mention first saw print in our very own promotional showcase Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook in 2017.
What immediately strikes the reader about the work presented here is how varied in theme and genre it is. From horror to slice-of-life work, visual allegory to bleak comedy, Levang is as at home with the bizarre and the weird as they are with the routine and the everyday. The 2-to-4-pagers from Dirty Rotten Comics were where they honed their craft for concise storytelling. Those tales include the graphic metaphor of ‘The Red Army’ (below left) wherein an ancient battleground proves highly effective representational imagery and ‘A Quite Ordinary But Not so Typical Morning’ (below right) which provides a study of teenage demonic life leading up to a cracking denouement/punchline the reader will be unlikely to see coming.
It’s those stories that UK readers may be seeing for the first time, of course, that will be of special interest to much of the book’s audience and there are some intriguingly dark one-shots here. They range from the perpetual and inevitable inter-generational conflict of the dystopian ‘Peace’ to the poetic justice that comes from a hatred of dogs in ‘Karma’, the stark horror of which is all the more well realised for the deep shadowy artwork and claustrophobic panel structure. The prose-heavy, journal-style approach of ‘The Replacement’ with its account of a trip to a quarantined island and its strange inhabitants shows off Levang’s art as its most richly grotesque while the supernatural, time-crossing paradoxes of ‘The Door’ are Levang at their unnervingly, off-kilter best.
Pages from ‘Peace’ in Rebels
It feels a little odd to be talking about a story with a very tangible Broken Frontier link but ‘Detour’ from our 2017 Small Press Yearbook (top banner image) wherein an amusement park visit leads to a cross-dimensional jaunt for a group of teenagers is a fast-paced, surreal romp that spotlights one of the greatest strengths of Levang’s comics – their intuitive and stunning use of colour to accentuate mood and theme.
Pages from ‘The Door’ (left) and ‘Karma’ (right)
As I say in the book’s intro the stories presented here are unsettling, mischievous, brooding and witty in equal measure and Levang’s frenetic, exaggerated cartooning has that rare quality of equal appeal to both an indie, alt small press crowd and a more “mainstream”, genre comics audience. Given the timeframe over which the entries in Rebels were created some are, understandably, more assured and confident in their storytelling than others but this remains an excellent introduction to a remarkable talent already proving their promise in the US serial comics arena.