It's hard to keep a small press comic going. Lets face it, it's a terrible way to get a big audience for your stories or to make ambition fueling money, and overwhelmingly comic press either confronts the work with practiced disinterest or someone like me who seems to make their job out of squatting and squeezing dry, brittle, rabbit pellet turds down the throat of creative dreams. Quite some time ago I reviewed the first issue of The Adventures of Wally Fresh, a comedy comic about a twenty-something slacker looking for love while hindered by his drug-enthusiast anthropomorphic beaver roommate and his equally unhinged female neighbor. It was a bit awkward, wore its influences pretty broadly on its sleeve, and featured very patchy artwork, but goddamn if I didn't remember it to this day fondly as one of the better small-press comedy comics I've covered for the site. It had charm, a sense of style, regardless of how rough hewn, and made me enjoy things that would automatically draw my ire in other stories. Despite the inevitable struggles associated, writer/artist Turner Lange stuck with it and the result is this four issue deep trade collection, accumulating the introductory arc of his Rosarium published series. At the end of issue one I remember being unsure of how well the comic would hold up over multiple issues, wondering if the story only had one real book in it. On the other side of this trade, I'm happy to report that this wasn't the case. Without improving or declining, The Adventures of Wally Fresh is exactly what it advertised in its first issue all the way through: visually sporadic, questionably imaginative, but grinning in a way that had me smiling back.
Wally Fresh's life is far from charmed. He's got dreams, probably, and barring that, he's got plenty of wants. Right now, he wants a freckle-faced honey that will laugh at his jokes and has a passing interest in marathon intercourse. The only thing standing in the way is sub-par dating sites and his roommate and female neighbor, both who seem hellbent on ruining potential good things while claiming to be looking out for his best interests. Throw in martial arts, nearly extinct death cults, and murderbots and you've got the first four issues of this ongoing comic.
The style is exaggerated reality mixed with fantasy elements, sounding vaguely like Scott Pilgrim but really having more in common with the hybrid fantasy-reality world of The Boondocks, minus the social commentary. The story is simple, one continuous plot running over the four issues with only minor digressions, feeling almost like a single episode of a television show. While paced nicely, one of the minor problems the book's story has is feeling like it stretched a relatively slight premise over a lot of pages, owed in part to the visual storytelling that often lays out comedy and action like storyboards for animation rather than feeling designed with the comic medium in mind. Despite this, it comes as only a minor complaint, as the pacing is gentle and lazy, letting the comic unpack its plot and comedy at its own pace, almost like the lackadaisical plotting of IDW's Angora Napkin. It becomes somewhat more of an issue whenever the comic switches gears to action, as the art isn't strong enough to make long choreographed scenes engaging, but when it lets the character's stop and chat about stupid shit, the book finds its speed.
The art is hard to wrestle an opinion on, as it both is one of the biggest contributors to my enjoyment of the book, but is also very shaky in terms of technique. Lange's art, for all of its weaknesses, 100% has an identifiable personal style. He delivers on personality, giving his characters animation and expressiveness, pulling comedy out of the multitude of ways he has his characters emote rather than leaning on a few cliched expressions. His weakest abilities are in designing environments, often flat and lacking an essential grasp on 3-point perspective, but save for some of the action in the final issue I rarely had any trouble understanding where the characters were and what was going on. The book is in black and white, but unlike some recent books I've picked up, it doesn't work against it. Lange utilizes plenty of black fills and uses very simple flat greyscale to sort some of the information, resulting in art that is just as comprehensible and readable without color as it would be with it. I give a lot of books a hard time for art that looks a lot more professional than this, but I stand behind my fondness for Lange's character work, showing so much promise that I'm excited to see his art develop over time. You can teach what personality looks like, but Lange shows a natural hand for it, and that is worth a lot in a self-publishing game front loaded with people trying to draw and write like other people.
I'm happy to see creators I like keep plugging away at The Work, I like it even better when their books don't burn out their welcome after the first issue. For its flaws, the collected trade surprised me, a plotted story that had confidence in its world and its characters. I hope Lange seeks to improve his artistic hand, particularly his environments, as the rough edges of the artwork could be a big ding against marketability as the book goes on (the cover of the trade alone would probably make me pass at a con, sight unseen), and his eye for character expression is too charismatic to deserve being taken away from. Still, for me the true joy of self-published and small press comics isn't digging to find future gems waiting to be published by big players, but rather to see personal perspectives of artists who work because they love the medium and telling stories in equal measure. Polish only takes you so far; if you don't have a unique voice than it's just portfolio material. I'd like Wally Fresh to get more polished in the future, but I'll take it any day over a slick but soulless package with dead fish eyes and Blambot lettering.
[su_box title="Score: 3/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
The Adventures of Wally Fresh vol. 1 Writer/Artist: Turner Lange Publisher: Rosarium Publishing Price: $17.95 Format: TPB; Print