If you’ve been around the site long enough, you know that I’m a little obsessed with crowd funded comic books. If you haven’t quite bit into the craze yet, then the little gem I’m going to share with you today should do the trick. It’s called The Outliers and it’s written and drawn by Erik T. Johnson. Haven’t heard of it? Well, me too up until a few weeks ago. Honestly, I can’t understand why I haven’t. I’ve been all over the crowd funding scene this past year, combing through projects on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Pozible. Yet, the proverbial Frodo dodged my all-seeing crowd funding eye(s).
The Outliers has to be one of the most BEAUTIFUL books I have EVER seen and read, and for many a good reason. Here’s a few of those…
Reason #1: The covers. If Johnson hasn’t crossed your radar before, you won’t forget him after looking at this. The dust cover on this is a magnificent feast for the eyes. The color is vibrant, cool and catching, while not detracting from the quality of the image on the page. If you look closely, you get a clue to what waits inside. The cover does what few do nowadays, connecting the reader to the interior content. Think I’m done with the cover? Nope! Take the dust cover off and you will find a textured multi-monster masterpiece on both the front and back. It’s like something created by an ancient scribe that you find buried within the hollow of a tree. It looks and feels magical.
Reason #2: Art. Johnson’s style is far from mainstream. It’s real and full of personality. The sparse use of color sets the mood with the subtle use of greens and blues. The main character doesn’t talk, in the traditional sense, yet his emotion comes through without any difficulty to tell a story. Every panel and scene leaves little space untouched. The time and detail put into The Outliers is obvious, and the results are mesmerising.
Reason #3: Story. First issues are difficult for indie creators. You don’t have history or expectation to rely on when delivering a new book to potential readers. Despite this, issue one makes you believe there is history without having to explain it. There’s a mythology and a secret about it you want to explore. The dense forest that plays a backdrop holds something magical. Tsu doesn’t talk, but occasionally blasts sound effects that turn out to be some type of language. Johnson has effectively built a solid foundation in this one issue, and I’ve never been more excited to read more of something or been so effortlessly absorbed into a comic in my life.
Reason #4: It’s not just any old comic. You go to the local comic shop every week and buy your books. 99% of the time, you read it once, bag it up, and put it in a longbox where it isn’t seen for years. The Outliers is not that kind of book. You will pour over the pages, read it again and again (as I have), and then you’re going to show it off to all your friends. After they all flip about how crazy sweet it is, you’ll order them all a copy and they’ll love you for life. What’s that? You think I’m just a crazy fan boy?! Well, Multiversity Comics ranked The Outliers in their Top 10 comics of 2012 list, right there with Wonder Woman, Batman, and Hawkeye. It’s seriously that GOOD. If I had known about it sooner, I would have called it my FAVORITE book of 2012.
Reason #5: Erik Johnson is a swell guy! I’ve had the immense pleasure of communicating back and forth with Erik since I found out about his book. In that course I learned that his son has autism and played a part in inspiring this story, something that resonates deeply with me as I’m writing a story inspired by my own son, who has Down syndrome. I asked Johnson a few questions based on his story and those responses are below!
SMC: How much has your experiences with your son influenced Tsu’s character?
EJ: When my son was 2 1/2 he was not talking. We also realized he was exhibiting other borderline characteristics of ASD so my wife and I began the stressful process of having him tested through the school system’s Early Childhood Education Department. Thing got so much better from there, but at the time it felt like a lonely fork in the road for all of us. I couldn’t shake the strength and vulnerability of this smart young kid with no words. The character of Tsu at 11 was extrapolated from the traits of my preschooler. With that character in place though, I felt like I really had a story I understood and was passionate about. Tsu was great glue to hold the drama/fantasy elements of the story together!
EJ: Thank you for picking up on that, because even after typing out my script, I had no idea what I had set myself up for as an artist. Presenting a mute main character required the other personalities in the book to tell his story or try to figure him out. Luckily I’ve always loved pantomime comics, and my first mental pictures of this comic (pre-story) turned out to be the silent last few pages in it.
SMC: Also, the experience on the bus. An all too common interaction for kids who are “different.” Thank you for bringing awareness to the cruel and awful use of the ‘R’ word!
EJ: I’ve gone back and forth on the bus scene a lot, and really hope I wasn’t too heavy-handed on the bullying and language (my own son and his friends have been treated with so much respect in those situations). Ultimately, I thought the dynamic of Jespers (bully) vs. Tsu standing up for himself, with Bob the bus driver mediating kind of balanced the equation. We’re all guilty of expressing our ignorance, and in Jesper’s defense, he was more threatened by the extranormal activity he thought he witnesses (correctly) and less by Tsu’s disability. Ironically, not unlike Tsu, Jespers is unable to find the right words he needed to express this fear, so he lashed out.
SMC: Anything else I can share about the future of the book?
EJ: It’s funny to say this, but the next issue is going to be wall-to-wall action, where the first issue was more of a mediation on the concept with shorter bursts of action. I have to figure out crowd-funding again, but the story is written and Tsu and T-Chokk (the giant) set off into the woods pursued by the professor and his assistant (who co-opt some unusual heavy machinery for capturing their prize specimen). The professor also bring Tsu some insight into his preternatural connection to the Outliers, while confirming that Tsu might be a missing link in his nefarious plans.
If you’re interested in grabbing issue one of what is sure to be a masterpiece when all said and done, visit The Outliers store to get a copy of the book or pick up some other sweet merchandise! To keep up with the future of the series, you can “Like” the Facebook fanpage or follow Erik on Twitter (@eriktjohnsonus).
Parental Concern: NONE
Chip writes about Crowd Funded comics just about every Wednesday right here at StashMyComics.com! Keep up with the latest spotlighted projects by following him on Twitter @ChipReece.
Check out the graphic novel he’s writing, METAPHASE – Inspired by his son and other little heroes with Down syndrome. A 10 page preview will be available May 4, 2013 (FCBD) on ComiXology from Alterna Comics with art by Kelly Williams!