This whopping 192-page collection by Peow is their latest in a series of genre-based anthologies. As noted in the preliminary pages of Ex.Mag Vol. 3, the anthologies were brought about when the Peow team noticed a lack of genre work in the indie comic space and sought an immediate solution. Indeed, these anthologies showcase the shiny potential of genre comics in the capable hands of indie creatives. Unified, the nine dark fantasy stories inside Ex.Mag Vol. 3 cover the expansive nature expressed by the genre title, delighting us with comical tales of the damned, foul creatures and erotic gargoyle exploits… no boulder has been left unturned in this particular crumbling kingdom.
The anthology includes many recognisable names including Peow’s very own co-founder Patrick Crotty, Al Gofa (Dark Angels of Darkness), Linnea Sterte (Stages of Rot) and Hanna K (New Frontier: Third Wheel). All creators have the Ex.Mag-signature ‘Artist Interview Cards’ at the back of the anthology, where you can find details on them and their upcoming works. For example, Linnea Sterte teases of ‘a big fantasy story’ and ‘a small frog story’ in the works. In addition to adding a personal touch, these cards also make it super easy to deep-dive into those creators you find a particular liking for.
Art by Patrick Crotty
Compared to the first and second anthologies, Ex.Mag Vol. 3 appears to have vamped up the colour theming continuity between the pieces even more. In the first anthology, the comics were mostly black and white with only the first one truly utilising that volume’s designated colour theme – green. By this volume, Peow have clearly encouraged creators to play with the shades of red they have chosen, and the effects are marvelous.
Art by Linnea Sterte
The art style of each comic varies drastically. There are more reflective, sombre pieces such as Sterte’s beautiful ‘An Arrow for the King’ and more comedic, graphic pieces such as Jake Terrell’s ‘Summoners Apogee’. The result is that Ex.Mag Vol. 3 pushes the dark fantasy genre to a very relevant surrender. The format also fluctuates between the comics. On the one hand, we have ‘Magus’ – the longest comic in the book at 32 pages – by Al Gofa, whose panels unfurl an entire fantasy kingdom in which wizards are distrusted and magic shunned. A cast of unique characters provide delightful dialogue and entertaining exchanges. Meanwhile, on the other hand, Valentin Seiche’s contribution, ‘Darfan’, involves a collection of six full-page illustrations of knights in various stages of combat or adventure – a wordless graphic sequence that invites the reader to participate in the fantasy narrative.
Art by Jake Terrell
Conversely, a prevalent theme across all interpretations of ‘dark fantasy’, perhaps hinting at the beating core of the genre, is of a longing that is – besides the notable exception of one gargoyle infatuated bride-to-be – unrequited. Whether that be a blood-thirsty bounty hunter unable to make a sale, the wizard-hating kingdom attempting to heal their ill comrade or an aspirational villager eager to be taught by her master, this unfulfilled desire is the crux of what will become the ‘dark’ in the ‘dark fantasy’ narrative. This motif necessarily entails that each of the comics within Ex.Mag Vol. 3 holds their own unique twist – including the exception noted earlier. In fact, it is this twist that circumvents the otherwise standard ‘fantasy’ tropes and diverts the narrative into something less conventional and more foreboding. Whilst in fantasy, usually, the longing is eventually fulfilled, the twist in these comics condemns their characters further. Epitomising this is the otherwise more cartoonish and lovable style of the final comic, ‘Boiling Point’ by Geov Chouteau, about an adorable cute sentient cauldron. Here, the charming illustrations make the subsequent pivot even more disarming.
Art by Tamasz
Ex.Mag Vol. 3: Crumbling Kingdom begs to be seen as an example for future genre work – and Peow have really set the bar high. By the time you get to the end of the anthology, you only want there to be more epic adventures to get lost into. Certainly, with Ex.Mag Vol. 3 Peow boast their treasures to the comic-space, and we cannot help but want to slay any interfering dragons to get more of what they are providing for us, consistently, time and time again.
Tamasz, Patrick Crotty, Al Gofa, Delfina Pérez Adán, Valentin Seiche, Jake Terrell, Hanna K, Linnea Sterte, Geov Chouteau (W/A) • Peow, $15.00
Review by Rebecca Burke