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The Forbidden Book. Volume 1: Journeys Into the Mystic. By various. Edited by Michael Cohen. Harrisburg, PA: Renaissance Press, 2001. 128p. $9.95. ISBN 0-9712169-0-8.


Adults, teens; some nudity, mild gore

Fifteen comics artists and writers contributed eleven stories to this anthology of fantasy stories, "all ... connected by that spider web strand we call magic." The stories are quite varied:

  • "Alison Gross" (Charles Vess) is an illustrated poem about a man who pays a penalty for refusing to kiss an ugly old witch.
  • "Mutter the Scribe" (Dennis Fujitake) hosts a wizard unexpectedly and decides to see if the wealthy old fellow would be interested in a neatly transcribed copy of his notes on magic. But muttering out loud while you transcribe notes on magic is a bad idea....
  • "I Bled the Sea" (Jeffrey Jones) is a two-page illustrated poem about the origin of a sea.
  • "Three Black Hearts" (Colleen Doran) beat in the breasts of three nasty Northerners who control the lives of three Southern witches after the war.
  • "Generations" (Marv Wolfman and Craig Taillefer) is a tale about how wizards took steps to prevent their magic from being abused by royalty.
  • "The Parchment of Her Flesh" (Michael Cohen, Mark Sherman, and Dave Hoover), narrated by a jaguar, concerns a warrior woman and her search for an ancient book of magic.
  • "The Clay Dog" (Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier and Philip Xavier), set in an African mythos, deals with a wandering wiseman/wizard/lawgiver who investigates the murder of a village wizard.
  • "Pilgrim Shadows" (David Gaddis) takes place in the far future, where a corrective agent and a biographer seek a missing author whose derangement is spilling over into reality.
  • "Subtleman" (Rick Veitch) is a dream sequence that explores some of the meanings found in dreams.
  • "Book Bound in Human Skin" (Mark Sherman and Stephen Blue) is the tale of a medium who carries a strange book and exudes a foul odor, and the mentor/rival who schemes to take that book from her.
  • "Kara, Kali, and the Wind" (Michael Cohen) is a fable about a girl who angers the wind when she gives shelter to a wandering Vaya (wizard/thief/trickster).

The book also includes an introduction by Cohen and a list of the participants' websites for "further explorations."

Fantasy anthologies such as this are fairly rare in comics (Weird Business springs to mind, but that's mostly horror), and I'm pleased to report that this one is first-rate. The stories show more variation in theme and tone than in most text-only collections. They're all very professionally done, both in story and art, and are easily up to their text-only counterparts. Of course, as you will have noted while reading the list up there, most of the participants in this project are long-time comics pros, so the general quality of the book shouldn't come as a surprise.

I have a couple of nit-picking comments. "The Clay Dog" is a little awkwardly paced at times--at first I thought there was a page out of sequence--and it isn't made clear that the supposed murderer had been locked in the closet (a key point) when the victim's widow found him; it's just said that the closet was "closed." I could have done without the "superhero-style" emphasis (i.e., the pointless emphasis of unexpected words) in the lettering in "Three Black Hearts" and "Book Bound in Human Skin." And "Pilgrim Shadows" (which is Gaddis's first published work) has an incomplete air about it, as if Gaddis had much more to say about the world he created but didn't have the space.

The art is uniformly wonderful and also quite varied--it would make a good overview of some of the best comics work being done today. Most of it is black-and-white, but "Three Black Hearts" and "Pilgrim Shadows" are in full color. No matter the artist, the black-and-white art tends to be very clean-lined, even when it's complicated, so it's easy to follow.

A second volume is promised, with an equally exciting lineup of creators; may there be many more. Most highly recommended for fantasy readers and library collections, and for anyone interested in high-quality black-and-white comics art. Be aware that this is the kind of book that can be overlooked by casual readers in favor of glitzier four-color titles; it deserves a far better fate than that.

Buy it directly from Renaissance Press!

Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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