Ugli Studios Presents #2 Review

USP-2-Cover-WEB Comics anthologies are tough to get right. DC€™s Bizarro World, Marvel€™s Strange Tales, The Dark Horse Book Of..., Batman Black and White, and generally most of MySpace/Dark Horse Presents were more misses than hits. The ones I remember really liking were Drawn and Quarterly€™s Showcases and Anthologies, and a couple volumes of MySpace/Dark Horse Presents. I say all of this because despite Ugli Studios being an indie outfit putting out an anthology that€™s not very good, even the Big 2 have a hard time putting out a strong comics anthology themselves. It€™s not who has the biggest reach, it€™s the quality of the material and more often than not comics anthologies don€™t have much quality material. Unfortunately this anthology doesn€™t contain much quality material. Ugli Studios Presents #2 is a collection of 3 short stories by David Paul, Jason Lenox, Brian Allen and Joseph Freistuhler, spanning the diverse pop genres of westerns, sci-fi, and noir. The Painted Ladies of San Quentin written by David Paul and drawn by Jason Lenox opens the anthology. Set in San Quentin, California in 1850, a whorehouse madam called Jessica Belmont wants to kill an old man called Elijah Holman for witnessing something he shouldn€™t have seen. She hires a Chinese hitman but once the two clash, Elijah realises there€™s more than one killer out to claim the bounty on his head. This first story is indicative of the other two stories in this book in that it looks great but the writing, storytelling and characterisation is sorely lacking. The comic dispenses with character and story in favour of gratuitous, mindless fighting, so instead of getting an idea of any of the characters or why specifically anything is happening, we€™re launched headlong into one long fight sequence between Holman, the Chinese hitman, and, later on, a gang of Mexican bad guys. The comic ends bizarrely when one of the paper thin characters sacrifices themselves and we get a Rick Geary-esque narrative detailing the fate of Jessica Belmont (Geary pops to mind because the lettering, drawing style and criminal-themed subject matter reminds me of his Treasury of Victorian Murder series, though the founding of San Quentin Prison presented here is pseudo-history). Brian Allen€™s The Courier, a sci-fi tale of a shirtless courier on a mission to deliver a mysterious box to an alien spacecraft, has the same kind of shallow storytelling of the first comic. It€™s all about the Twilight Zone-esque ending more than anything else. You don€™t get a sense of character or the world it€™s set in before it€™s over, which is partly the fault of the format being an anthology of limited size, but also feels like a lot of stories from Ugli Comics Presents #1 where the comic built towards the €œshocking€ finale to the detriment of everything else. This kind of story relies on the reveal to make the reader want to go back and re-read it but in this instance felt very weak and childish, like it was something a teenager dreamt up - all surface, no depth, no impact on the reader. Allen€™s art is fine but his character designs are uninspired. His main character is of course ridiculously cut (like most male comics character leads) and is supposedly Egyptian though looks Caucasian. The bad guy alien looks a lot like Marvel€™s Mojo character and the insectoid-like aliens have been done to death in so many other comics that they may as well be the comics equivalent of extras from Central Casting. Maybe this comic was going for tongue-in-cheek B-movie-esque schlock, but frankly it€™s not silly enough nor inventive enough to really be successful if that is what Allen intended. Whatever the intent, it€™s quite bland and forgettable. The final comic, Thirteen by Joseph Freistuhler, is perhaps the most baffling of the bunch. Drawn in the style of early Sean Phillips, it€™s a noir comic featuring a man who has several other men in a building who look like him. Evolution and science are mentioned. He introduces another man who looks like them who winds up killing them all. The end. If I hadn€™t read the marketing copy explaining that this is a story about a serial killer who clones himself repeatedly in an attempt at creating the ultimate killer, I would have no clue what the story was about. This story further underlines the fact that in comics, quite often good artists do not make good writers. Freistuhler€™s comic looks good but is totally lacking in coherent storytelling. How do we know they€™re serial killers? Why are they all standing around in an abandoned warehouse? How do we know the original person set out to create the ultimate killer? To what end? How? When? Simple questions that are totally avoided so the artist can draw panel after panel of guys getting stabbed. Again, the comic feels childish, shallow and completely unaffecting. Ugli Studios ran a successful Kickstarter project earlier this summer to raise the $3000 needed to print this anthology, so congratulations to them on that. It€™s great that sites like Kickstarter are giving indie creators like Ugli Studios an opportunity to showcase their art in a way that they wouldn€™t have had even just a few years ago. That said, not everything that€™s produced through these channels is necessarily good and, though the art in this collection is certainly decent, the creators really need to work on their writing much more in order to create good comics. While Ugli Studios Presents #2 is not that good a comic, I think the creators have the abilities to one day make something great. Ugli Studios Presents #2 will be released at the Baltimore Comic Con on September 7 and 8, 2013
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