Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Dragon Garage’

“Over the hills where the spirits fly”

I’ve been a big fan of James Turner‘s work for years, so I’m always keen to check out his new stuff. His latest, Dragon Garage, comes to us, as usual with Turner’s work, from SLG. Let’s take a look!

If you’ve read a James Turner comic before, you know that his art is idiosyncratic, as he uses digital tools to create very precise, geometric shapes that form the whole. It’s not for everyone, but it does have a distinctive look and Turner is very good at doing it. Several years ago, when I wrote about Rex Libris, I asked him about his process, and you can take a look at that here. Turner seemed to have found his niche, and all of his comics look similar to Rex Libris. I enjoyed the art very much, so I had no problems with that.

When you open Dragon Garage, however, you’re presented with a completely different style. It’s still noticeably Turner’s art, but it’s clear that he’s ditched a lot of the digital stuff, at least superficially (I’m sure he did some work digitally, because that’s what artists do these days). His line work is thicker and rougher, his spot blacks are far more ragged and less precise, and he uses a lot of grayscaling. It’s unusual seeing it, because Turner has been so good at his thing for so long. I don’t know if this is the way he’s going to draw going forward or if he just wanted to try it, but it does fit the subject matter a bit more than his older style. Part of this story takes place in a medieval fantasy world, so Turner makes it a bit rougher than our modern world. We find moss-covered ruins, riots of vegetation, beat-up wooden houses, and jagged rock formations, all of which have a more organic feel to them thanks to the style of the art. The protagonists in the book are, well, kind of nerdy – they’re playing a role-playing game which turns quasi-real – and Turner makes them look like “real” people – they have scruffy beards and their hair is occasionally out of place, and they just basically look less put together than, say, good ol’ Rex Libris, who was always in top form. Again, it makes them feel more “real” – in general, Turner’s protagonists have been superheroic people, like Rex, or oddball creatures, so they don’t need to look as “real” as these more mundane heroes need to look. The antagonists of this book are goblins, and of course they appear rough-hewn and generally hard and flinty, although Turner is smart enough to give them some personality, so they’re not just ravening villains. Unlike most of Turner’s previous work, which concerned modernism and even futurism, this book recalls a bygone time, and Turner’s shift in art style suits that very nicely.

The story is fun, too, like most of Turner’s work. Zach is on an archaeological dig in the Middle East, but the leader of the expedition wants to take credit for his work, so he finds a reason to send him back to the States. Before he leaves, he buys a weird idol from a street vendor, and of course you know it’s more than just a trinket! It turns out that Zach’s mother is very sick and he needs money to help her (we assume it’s cancer, but Turner never tells), his dad is AWOL, his brother was murdered some years earlier, and he can’t get a job at his university, except as a groundskeeper. But! he has friends, and they come over to play an RPG, and there’s a thunderstorm and the idol does something weird, and the next morning Zach finds out that he can enter the world of the RPG … through his garage, of course (hence the name!). He tells his friends, of course, and they have some fun in the other world, but then one of their friends gets kidnapped, and, you guessed it, Shit. Gets. Real. Nothing too bad happens – a good section of this book concerns gastrointestinal distress – but Turner does a nice job making the stakes just a bit higher than a simple rescue adventure, mainly because in Zach’s world, some strange things do happen. Plus, Zach does have financial problems, so the way he goes about trying to fix those is understandable, a bit naïve, and somewhat tragic because of his naïveté. Even with all this, it’s not a heavy book, but Turner is smart enough to bring in some “real-world” concerns so it’s not just a wacky adventure, which can work but can also easily be a bit tiresome. Turner does end it fairly well, with just enough hinting around to justify a sequel if he wants. So, there’s that.

Dragon Garage isn’t quite as good as Turner’s best work, but it’s still pretty good. The art is impressive, not only because of how Turner usually creates his art, but just on an interesting, technical level as well, and the story is quite fun with a nice amount of seriousness thrown in. It’s not quite a crazy as some of Turner’s works, but it’s a very good addition to his bibliography. You can get it here or wherever fine comics are sold!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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