Beek's Books - an ongoing collection of comic book reviews
  The Enchanters (Hidden Poet)
by Steven Gellman
issue #1
Rating: OK, Content: [fantasy] [les/bi/gay] [super]

 One of the benefits of being a net.reviewer is all of the free books you get from creators clamoring for you to review their work. Well, maybe "clamoring" is a bit strong... {grin} But I do get books from time to time from folks who have something they'd like me to look over and (hopefully) give some good publicity. That's how The Enchanters #1 came into my hands.

  A major hazard of setting out to create a comic that (for example) helps to balance the under-representation of gay people in the medium is the potential for the work to be pigeonholed as "just a gay comic book"... and worse, for the work to deserve that. I was especially concerned about that when I saw that The Enchanters is about a group of five gay and lesbian characters. Was this going to be an illustrated lecture about lesbian and gay people, tolerance of diversity, etc. or would it entertain?

 The answer is: some of both. These characters are all comfortable with their sexual orientation, so it makes sense that they would be open about it, that some of the people they encounter would have a problem with it, and they'd spend some time having to explain. So it doesn't come across as too forced. However, it is a bit difficult to reconcile this with the premise that these characters are "under cover" magical superheroes... if they were trying to blend in (in this story, at a high school), I would expect them to carefully avoid drawing attention to themselves with public displays of affection and such. (The book is non-pornographic, by the way; hugging, lovey-dovey eyes, and "let's make love" are as sexually explicit as it gets.)

original art, to left; vertically compressed, above
 But the characters are defined by more than just their orientation, and the story isn't just them teaching the other kids a lesson about that. This issue tells the "origin" of the Enchanters team, through the time-honored technique of one of the characters writing a journal. The same journal also gives us a run-down of the characters, telling us enough about each to give them some kind of independent identity from each other: age, powers, personality, and the instrument they play in their band. (Writer/artist Steven Gellman is a professional musician himself, so I figure the rock-band cliché can be forgiven. {smile}) I would've liked to see more about how each of them got involved with the Enchanters (rather than the "and then we all..." approach this part of the story takes)... showing us who each of the characters is more than telling us. In fact, one of the story's main weaknesses is the talky-ness of it. The cursive handwriting (on ruled paper) used for the journal entries is a nice touch, but it also makes that part difficult to read. And by the time things seem likely to get interesting (a showdown with the evil magicians that the Enchanters were sent to the school to find), it's "to be continued" time. The characters have potential, but it hasn't been realised yet.

 Of course to "show" instead of "tell" requires effective art, and that could also use some work. The text page is a little confusing about how recently this story was drawn (he comments about it being "in the closet too long"). But it is definitely the creator's first comic book (self-published), and it shows. (I've seen worse from people who actually work regularly in the comics business, but let's not get into that diatribe.) It took me a while to figure out what bugged me so much about the art, but I eventually noticed that it looks as if it had been stretched vertically to fit the proportions of the page. I tried scanning some of it and reducing the height of the images, and it actually looks a lot better, not just the proportions but various angles, poses, and such. But even then, there are still some problems; for example, the characters still have a bit too much hair, on oversized craniums. I'd recommend some practise drawing figures from life to break some of these habits. With some work, it could be rather good. And if Gellman ever reprints this issue, I'd recommend he squish the art down first. {smile}

 Gellman says that his goal in creating the Enchanters are to break down stereotypes and build bridges. I think it has the potential to do that, if he keeps at it and develops his skills. But I'd tell him not to quit his day job... except that he already did that when his music started supporting him. {smile} So I'd instead advise him to keep performing and recording. But keep practising the comics.

For more information, see the Hidden Poet web site.
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