ADVANCED REVIEW: Fearscape #1 by Ryan O’Sullivan, Andrea Mutti, & Vladimir Popov

Fearscape #1 is out Sept. 26, 2018.

By Zack Quaintance — Fearscape #1 is the latest new series from fast-rising indie publisher Vault Comics, with hints of a diverse range of stories about stories, from movies like Midnight in Paris to famous cartoon shorts like Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck (Google it, you’re likely familiar…). This comic is smart and unique, and it pushes the limits of the sequential graphic storytelling medium, deploying a strong literary voice along with a concept that ranks among the best of today’s creator-owned comic wave.

It’s one part Saga, Monstress, or Wic + Div, and it’s one part that killer short story you read in The New Yorker, maybe by Zadie Smith, T.C. Boyle, or Lauren Groff. It’s an amalgam of your favorite graphic novels and that conversation you had last week with that annoying guy in tweed at your friend’s dinner party, the one who kept referencing his MFA.

Phew. That’s an onslaught of gimmicky descriptors, but this book grows from, speaks to, and stands upon mankind’s storytelling traditions. As such, references are perhaps the best means of giving readers an idea of what they’re in for when they open this comic. Now then, let’s get granular and go into Fearscapes’ plot, strengths, and best lines, shall we?

Plot: An otherworldly being called The Muse comes to take humanity’s greatest storyteller to The Fearscape, a realm of dark magic where human fears exist as living creatures. That storyteller is tasked with overcoming the greatest of all fears, thereby freeing humanity from them. The Muse comes for a venerable fantasy writer and instead finds Henry Henry (perfect failed author name, btw), a fraud who is busy stealing a manuscript from the home of the aforementioned famous writer, who is Henry’s friend/benefactor and is also sick and dying. It’s a lot, but Andrea Mutti’s artwork is clear and imaginative, and it orients the reader, while writer Ryan O’Sullivan makes excellent use of authoritive narration, which brings us to Fearscape #1’s single greatest strength...

...its voice, which is just pretentious enough to remind us what type of guy Henry Henry is (seriously, perfect name) without making us totally hate him, although holy wow is it close. Voice does so much work in this story, conveying that our main dude is a personification of imposter syndrome, oozing insecurity with his pretentiousness cranked to 11. It remains to be seen if the creators can emotionally vest us in the guy, but for now the intrigue and imagination is so compelling it doesn’t matter.

So, let’s get into some of best lines, including: All authors are ultimately translators; endlessly rewording stories and ideas we’ve heard countless times before.

And this resentful take on genre writing: Twenty-seven novels. All of them fantasy. All of them set in the same trope-ridden dragon-infested world.

Finally, this shot at a particularly loathsome subclass of human: Yet, despite this, we shall still find ourselves opposed by the casual reader and, even worse, its mutated older sibling, the critic.

Overall: A nigh-perfect debut, a unique comic that pushes the boundaries of sequential graphic storytelling. Fearscape #1 is one part killer creator-owned comic, one part famous literary short story, and 100 percent not to be missed.  10/10

Fearscape #1 is available Sept. 26, 2018.

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Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.