Beek's Books - an ongoing collection of comic book reviews
  Amy Unbounded
(Pughouse Press)
by Rachel Hartman
issues #1-5 of "the ashcan series"
Rating: good, Content: [fantasy] [all ages] [humour]

 I don't buy very many mini-comics. I'm too much a creature of habit, and my habit is to acquire comics through "the system" with my monthly orders and my weekly visits to my local store. I love an adventure off the beaten path (ask me sometime about my solo trip to Iceland), but don't head off in such ways very often. This series is a reminder of why I should.

  I'd heard about this series before, but I first saw part of a story from it featured (in reduced form) as a back-up story in an issue of Linda Medley's Castle Waiting (which is a wonderful professionally-published all-ages fantasy series, I should add). I was charmed. I gave in and sent off a check for the five issues out to date. (Ordering info in case you're interested is at the bottom of this review.)

  The title character is a nine-year-old girl who lives with her parents in the medieval kingdom of Goredd. Her father raises sheep and weaves cloth. Her mother (whose family are nomad warriors and who speaks "English" a bit strangely) makes clocks. Amy has further family, friends, and neighbours (a variety of interesting characters), who are introduced as the series progresses. Each issue stands on its own as a story, though after reading one, you're likely to want them all.

 The stories are narrated in Amy's voice, which does a lot to help develop her as a character. However, we also see scenes which Amy is not present for, and she sometimes speaks with just a little too much perspective on things... kind of breaking the fourth wall by commenting about herself with wisdom beyond her years. But this is rarely a problem, and the "extra" insight she gives is worth it.

  The character of Amy is quite believable. Something tells me Hartman knows some nine-year-old girls... or at least was one herself. {grin} She can be playful, peevish, proud, perplexed, petulant, precocious, and paranoid, like any complex real person. And her supporting cast, while sometimes characterised in broad lines, show a range of emotions as well. Anyone who appears in more than one scene is quickly established as at least two-dimensional, if not three.

 Hartman's art is simple and cartoony. It's the one aspect of the series that's not quite "ready for prime time", with a bit of awkwardness and uncertainty to it. In particular Hartman seems uncertain how cartoony to draw characters (especially Amy), leading to a little inconsistency within the whole. But over the course of these five issues, her art gets subtly more polished, with the figures getting more consistent and the backgrounds more elaborate (when called for). I assume Hartman has aspirations of publishing through standard commercial channels; I'd say she's almost ready.

 But don't let that "almost" stop you from picking these issues up. There's as much story in each issue as in any full-sized comic book, and the low-budget packaging doesn't detract from it. The issues are good photocopies, 5.5" x 8.5" (letter-size paper folded in half), stapled, 20-28 pages each, with colored-paper covers. Not "pro" quality reproduction, but plenty good enough.

 With stories as fun - yet thoughtful - as these, I plan to return for adventures in Goredd as often as Hartman offers us a ride.

Copies of Amy Unbounded are available from Rachel Hartman, 5464 S. Harper #2D, Chicago IL 60615; at a price of $2.00 for any one issue, and $1.50 for each subsequent issue ordered at the same time. These prices include postage. The five issues available at the time of this writing are,
#1: "Amy in the Grip of Good Weather",
#2: "St. Fatuous' Fair [wherein our dazzling heroine behaves most charmingly, leaps to amazing conclusions, and fails to fall in love...]",
#3: "The Rabbit Rampant [in which reality exceed our heroine's expectations - for a change]",
#4: "The Sad Fate of Niesta's Cheese [in which our Amy, barring one flash of illumination, manages to remain pretty clueless about boys]",
#5: "The Gift [in which the ever-astonishing Amy becomes a famous bombarde player, albeit inadvertently]".
We rated with RSAC More info about the series can be found at Hartman's Web site.
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