Cold Cut Distribution's Feature Spotlight #15 - July 1996

Book of Ballads & Sagas

Publisher:	Green Man Press
Story:		Rob Walton, Neil Gaiman, etc (various)	
Art:		Charles Vess	
Cvr Price:	$2.95 (#3 is $3.50 and #4 is $3.25)
Frequency:	Quarterly


Each issue contains a number of short pieces. One ongoing serial is "Skade", the story of a young girl destined to bring on Ragnarok in her search for revenge. Other short stories include "King Henry", about a gallant knight's rescue of a monster, and "Thomas the Rhymer", the tale of a man's love for an elfin queen and the gifts she grants him.

Writing Review:

Charles has gotten some of the best authors in the business, and a few who aren't even in the business, to adapt interesting old English folk ballads. The stories therefore tend to have blunt morals and be simple tales of fantasy - but the scripting is generally sharp, often filling in holes in the ballads with interesting details - and the lyrics of each ballad generally follow the adaptation so you can compare them.

Scripting duties on the stories in issues 1 and 2 are handled by the talented pens of Neil Gaiman, Rob Walton, Jane Yolen, Charles DeLint, and Sharon McCrumb. Issue 3 promises some scripting by Jeff Smith and more. Plus, each issue has discographies of where to find sung versions of the ballads he's adapted, as well as articles on the history of ballads and thumbnail biographies of balladeers.

Art Review:

In this book, Charles seems to lovingly linger on light shadows and details and the result is finely-crafted etchings reminiscent of detailed woodcarvings. His work here in black-and-white allows him to do things with shading and shadows that simply weren't possible in his more-famous color works like Sandman. Details which would have been muddied and lost with the coloring (tufts of grass on a hill, distant birds in a sky) instead flesh out the scene in exciting ways. Excellent, fabulous work.


Certainly readers of Sandman will give Book of Ballads & Sagas a try (especially if they loved Vess' stunning work on the Shakespeare episodes). Likewise, lovers of the mythic tones in Books of Magic will enjoy Ballads. Readers of mythic and Nordic fantasy (Susan Dexter, Phyllis Eisenstein, etc) and, of course, folk music lovers will get a real kick out this series - and the fact that this is a 6-issue miniseries should be a selling point for many of them. And don't forget the completist fans of the various writers: Neil Gaiman, Rob Walton, and Jeff Smith especially.

Issue 3 (due in late June) is extra-thick and cover-priced at $3.50, due to the amount of material that got bumped from issue 2 thanks to the east coast blizzard which resulted in issue 2 containing two ballads reprinted from Dark Horse Presents ("Savoy" and "King Henry").

If you like Book of Ballads & Sagas, take a look at:

Murder Can Be Fun

Publisher:	Slave Labor Graphics
Story:		John Marr
Art:		Zander Cannon, Scott Saavedra, Garrett Izumi, etc (various)
Cover Price:	$2.95 
Frequency:	Quarterly


Each issue of Murder Can Be Fun contains a series of several (eight to ten) stories of unusual or noteworthy deaths. In much the same vein as Malcolm Forbes' best-selling "Whatever Happened To..." series of books, MCBF looks at a different theme each issue. Issue 1 is all about great or strange disasters in history (the crash of the Hindenburg as well as the Great Boston Molasses Flood). Issue 2 is about the unusual deaths of famous celebrities, including Jayne Mansfield, Bruce & Brandon Lee, and Ernest Hemingway. Issue 3 (due in August) will be about postal worker rampages, with a "samurai mailman" cover from Andi Watson -- don't miss it!

Writing Review:

Fascinating as only the truth can be, John Marr collects and assembles the facts and histories behind each case, then leaves the scripting and pacing up to the individual artists and the editing up to the versatile Craig Pape, with results ranging from excellent and sharp ("The Croak" in issue 2) to short and sweet (Zander Cannon's one-page "4 Classic Disasters" in issue 1), from captivating slow-motion calamities ("Target: Andy Warhol") to somewhat unfocused ("Post Chicago Fire"), but almost all are universally fascinating.

Art Review:

Since each issue is an anthology of short stories from various artists, it is not surprising that the art styles vary dramatically even within a single issue. Consistently good art comes from established creators like Zander Cannon, Scott Saavedra, and Garrett Izumi (plus, of course, the wonderful covers from Jhonen Vasquez and Evan Dorkin), great one-pagers from F. Andrew Taylor (see a sample to the left) and quality work with solid pacing and really nice flow from people like Don Haring Jr. and Gregory Benton.

Unfortunately, sometimes less-than sterling pieces find their way in, like the confusing "Nashville Train Wreck", but in an anthology one necessarily expects some hits and misses -- and MCBF has a higher hit-to-miss ratio than most, especially in issue 2 (definitely the better of the two issues printed so far) due to the morbidly fascinating subject and the interesting variety of artists. Seeing Garrett's picture-show square frames in the same issue as Zander's loopy, super-deformed Warner-Bros-esque stylings is an experience not to be missed.

Sales Overview:

Murder Can Be Fun is a deceptive title in terms of sales. Timeless yet fascinating, it has no "end of life". There is no continuing story, no need to "jump on the storyline" - any issue makes a fine starting place, yet encourages readers to check out and purchase earlier (and later!) issues. And the topic is timeless too -- will there ever be a time that people aren't morbidly fascinated with deaths other than their own?

Art completists for Cannon (Replacement God) and Saavedra (Dr. Radium) will need the book as well - but this will sell mainly as a long-shelf-life unrelated staple book. Another "comic for those who don't read comics", this will appeal to fans and non-fans alike.

If you like Murder Can Be Fun, take a look at:

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