Monday, September 26, 2011

Kremin (1991-94)

Kremin – Issue #1, Volume #1
     It may seem odd to kick off a week of posts dedicated to comic books and graphic novels with a little known title – Kremin (1991-94) – that had an extremely limited run.  Chances are good that neither you nor your children ever dressed up as Kremin for Halloween.  There has never been a blockbuster movie starring the character.  Indeed, I have a feeling that most the the reading public would have no idea who he is or what he does.  So why start with this title?
     Part of that has to do with my own history in regards to comics, and I will detail part of that in this post.  Another reason – and probably the more compelling one – is that the man behind this indy title is still in the industry, still making a go at releasing titles and stories that aren't in the mold of the major players in the industry.  That man is named Charles D. Moisant, and he was good enough to give me a couple hours of his time to help me better understand from where he – and the character of Kremin – were coming.  I will address some of Mr. Moisant's current projects later in the post, as well as what you – the reader – can do in order to support his efforts and vision if you find his work to your liking.  I would very much like to encourage you to visit his sites and give his work a chance.
     But back to me for a brief while.  
Kremin – Issue #2, Volume #1
     I never really considered myself a Jeff Albertson, especially when I was young, fit, and had a head full of hair.  I just wasn't that into comic books.  I do remember the first comic book that was given to me as a gift was a Batman title in which Batman died.  Batman died!  Well, Batman of Third Earth, but still not a great start for getting a child interested in the format.  My best friend got me into ElfQuest and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in graphic novel format (when that term wasn't just applied to a comic book printed on higher quality paper with a more robust cover), but I didn't follow his interest in picking up the Conan comics he voraciously read.  
     I had a pretty limited interest when it came to titles.  I did follow ElfQuest for a while, but it eventually stopped being interesting to me; nothing could beat the original quest in terms of story.  I was a huge fan of Robotech (1985) and tried to get every issue of Robotech Invid War that Comico put out.  I picked up a few issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but found the stand-alones to be less fulfilling than the graphic novels (especially #1 & #4).  But I was more likely to buy a Marvel title at a 7-11 to have something disposable to read than I was to start following a new title.
Kremin – Issue #3, Volume #1
     I had a few places to go to buy comics when I found a title I wanted to follow.  There was a comic book shop in Worth, IL that was across the street from my eye doctor (Dr. Richard Dykstra) – I want to say that it was All-American Comics, but I could be wholly mistaken in regards to the name.  There was a store just down the second story walkway from Orland Hobbies – when it was off of La Grange Road in Orland – that was relatively accessible.  But the only comic book store I felt a kinship with was Taurus Comics in Cheboygan, MI.  I would wager that had more to do with the fact that my time in the upper Lower Peninsula meant limited contact with people my age and comics were an easy refuge.
     The other place I could go for comics was One Stop Comics in Oak Park, IL.  Where most of my friends – actually, all of my friends – came from stable, two parent homes, I was a child of divorce.  Even though I lived in Orland Park with my father from 1989 to early 1993, I also spent time with my mother in the other OP.  One Stop was kind of an all-purpose comic book store (it still exists, but I have not been in it in years).  It is where I picked up my AD&D 2nd Ed. PHB and the Dark Sun box set.  I think I even bought a novel there.  But what I will remember most about One Stop, other than it was an easy walk from my mother's apartment (and less depressing than it, too), is that it was where I could find Kremin.  
Kremin – Issue #4, Volume #1
     I guess it would be more appropriate to say that Kremin found me.  Writer/Publisher Charles D. Moisant was in one day signing copies of his new title.  And it was decidedly local.  Not that I considered myself part of Oak Park, but I still saw the appeal.  You may have noted that I popped for a signed copy of issue #1, complete with a mistake on which number out of the 1,000 it was.  
     But what kind of title was Kremin?
Kremin opens with this page.  I ask you to direct your attention to the car below.  Or the narrowness of the building – with no support on either side.  This is what I think of when I write that Kremin looked unprofessional in its debut issue.
Weird body language and proportions, but what got to me was that it took an extra two panels to get back to Bryon Morrison and Hacer Ciencia to get on their way to the laboratory.
Byron Morrison waking up with souped-up powers.  But the quality of the artwork leaves something to be desired.

This is an entire page dedicated to announcing the characters are going to eat at Starship Subs.  And the dialogue is a little clunky.  But it isn't the worst looking page in the debut issue.
This weird picture of Hacer reaching out of the page?  Yeah, that may be my least favorite part of the first issue.
Byron Morrison as the Wave, in a page that looks like it belongs in a completely different book.
The closing page from Kremin #1.  I like it, except...look at the legs.  Still, a sign of better things to come.  Oh, by the way, Kremin doesn't go splat in the first issue.
      That really needs to be addressed in stages.  It is hinted at in the actual issues –and was confirmed by Moisant – that Kremin was a kind of early foray into the format.  It also did not have a bankroll behind it.  What may have been intended as a monthly, bi-monthly, or even quarterly title ended up being released as the money to make it happen became available.  It was a kind of super-independent independent title being published by its creator.  
     Kremin was an ultra-local title.  Never mind that the it was published locally, it was set in the neighborhood.  The restaurant of choice for the souped-up heroes is Starship.  The people buy their comics at One Stop.  The local mall is a stand in for the North Riverside Mall (becoming the North of Riverfield Mall, I assume to avoid any legal issues).  The local bank may seem to be set a ways south – it is the Park Forest Bank – but is merely Forest Park flipped around for the comic.  It is pretty clear that the dangerous neighborhood one of the characters ventures into is Austin.  

From Issue #2.  The Wave will stop you from stealing a purse and make you speak English.  All while a Hitler-esque baddie is gunning for him.  That is what it means to be a souped-up hero.  But the artwork does look  better.
The Wave and Kremin don't exactly hit it off when they first meet.  Oh, by the way, it's issue #2 and Kremin is finally meeting the guy from issue #1.  Actually, it works in a comic book sort of way.
     The look?  Well, that definitely evolved.  Issue #1 simply didn't look good (see the selected images above).  It didn't look like the major labels.  It didn't look like the art school independents.  Quite frankly, it didn't look professional.  It got the point across, but it didn't convey much in the way of energy or movement.  It wasn't a self-contained issue, either, so the promise of more wasn't necessarily one that ensured a better project.  Then we get issue #2 in 1992 (with perhaps the ugliest cover ever).  But it looks better.  The lettering doesn't look like it was typed in and the scenes look much more dynamic.  Then something awesome happened.  Nivard Tuazone started doing the artwork for Kremin in issue #3, and it looked professional.  Better than anything the second tier artists at DC or Marvel were putting out.  Characters could look menacing one moment and comical the next, yet it still seemed consistent.  The quality of the artwork allowed for a smoother pace for the stories.  
     The theme?  Well, I guess I didn't think there was much of one when I first read Kremin.  I would ask for some consideration in regards to this; I was sixteen when issue #1 came out and nineteen when the run ended at issue #4.  I was young and there was quite a bit of time between each issue.  Re-reading it in preparation for this review, I came up with a different interpretation than the one put forth by Moisant.  My take – which is not the official one – is that Kremin is an anti-hero, a type of restrained anarchist who works not for ultimate freedom but to ensure small scale liberty from those who have no consideration for the rights of others.  He is in opposition to The Entity, an angelic figure who, in my take on the story is so concerned with huge picture Good that the destruction of entire worlds as perfectly acceptable when combating the threat of evil.
Page 3 from issue #3.  All of the sudden, Kremin looks like a professional, bad-ass comic book.  Big guns, super powers, baddies who want to be the Terminator.  Yeah, all of that can work.
Souped-up heroes sitting around, reading comic books.  This is cool in a meta sort of way, but it is immediately followed by a few pages of the comic they are reading.  With such a limited run, I would have preferred for more space been dedicated to the main story.  Again, the art work is miles beyond (maybe Streets Ahead) of where it was in issue #1.
That's right.  Even amongst friends, the Wave demands that you "Speak English!".  Well, I guess you don't want the guy with sonic powers – which can let him fly or blow a hole through a wall – becoming so frustrated that he just lashes out.
     Having written that, Kremin is part superheroes, part supernatural, and all aimed at the mindset of the adolescent male.  It takes full advantage of comic book logic, where tensions can be eased or erased in the space of a panel and tenuous connections are good enough to move the plot along.  In terms of roleplaying games, it is part Heroes Unlimited (from the Wave – an experiment – to Hacer Ciencia – a scientist piloting a robot), part Rifts (the inter-dimensional travel, the giant guns, magic, undead, and even part of Kremin's look), and all 1980s style where "cool story" trumps whatever the rules have to say.
     There are some problems with Kremin.  First of all, there is a lot of the story that simply doesn't make it to the page.  Moisant told me that when he started, he didn't really know how to pace a story for a comic book and even approached the first issue with kind of a stream of consciousness manner of writing.  Kremin doesn't play much of a role in the first issue of his book.  The other major player, the Wave, comes across as a bit of a bigot when he shouts at characters speaking Spanish to "Speak English!", though Moisant maintains that he is reacting more to a feeling of being left out when others speak in a language he doesn't understand.  Kremin himself is a bit of a misogynist who the ladies can't resist.  From what I learned from Moisant, there is more than enough information about each of the important characters to sustain them for a lengthy run, but so much is kept from the reader that these same characters are in part (except for the Wave) unfortunate enigmas.  Oddest of all, none of the issues were the same size in terms of dimensions.
Kremin adopts a disguise by changing the color of his skin – to pitch black.  No matter how bad I feel about typing this...he must not be from around here.
Kremin, shouting at The Entity.  Not only is this a great example of traditional comic book art – albeit with an indy touch – but it encapsulates the relationship between the two characters in a single panel.
     Still, Kremin does a pretty good job of telling a complex, mutli-dimensional story in the space of four issues.  It was relatively cheap for a real independent title – $2.50 for the first three issues, $2.95 for issue #4.  It found interesting ways to interject humor, some of which really worked (like where a comic book geek turns all Sam Spade when he learns the girl he was romancing is really a powerful necromancer) and some that didn't (the comic-book-within-a-comic-book may be funny, but it was maddening at the same time because it took space away from the main story, which already felt constrained by page count).
     So...what has Moisant been up to since?
Myth-Told Tales, based on the book from Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye, published by Silver Phoenix Entertainment. 
Mystery Manor: Haunted Theory, another Silver Phoenix title.
     Well, there is a different publishing company.  Kremin came from Grey Productions, Inc.  Quite fittingly, the current one is Silver Phoenix Entertainment.  He has done some well regarded titles since the days of souped-up heroes, and has even more in the works.  Heck, you can even pick up all four issues of Kremin for $20 from the Silver Phoenix store (which would probably help any efforts to relaunch the title, and considering what some labels charge for back issues, it isn't a horrible price).
Roller Derby Drama
     The projects that deserve the most ink at present are the Roller Derby Drama Calendar and Blood Feast.  The former is both a tie-in to a title that would combine superheroines and roller derby (in a world where roller derby is the top sport) and Moisant's own sponsorship of a real-world roller derby team.  The latter, which is slated to feature an alternate cover by Joe Abboreno (who I consider a friend), is a more traditional horror type comic.  I like to think Blood Feast sounds like the spoof Mad Magazine did for Motel Hell (1980), with all of the humor and more gristly gore.  And looking really good.  
     Now, I know that not everybody has an affinity for horror as a genre, and horror-comedy is a hard mix to get right.  However, Moisant isn't new to the concept.  He has been doing the haunted house bits – in Nebraska and now in Illinois – for quite some time, so the fundamental understanding of how to incorporate the backstory (so often overlooked or underserved) in order to make the experience and tales pop.  Likewise, I get that not everybody gets excited about roller derby.  I know that I am not clearing my schedule to go out and watch matches, but at the same time I see the appeal and possibilities that the Roller Derby Drama concept can yield.  I'd like to see where Moisant could take it (even if it is in a brief run, like Kremin).
Joe Abboreno's work in progress artwork for Blood Feast.
     Moisant is actively seeking some funds to get both of these projects rolling, and I think that both are worth some investigation to see if they are your kind of thing.  But it is exceedingly difficult to find quality products that aren't part of the corporate propagation of their own brands.  It would be nice if those who have a taste for these products would be willing to pledge some support to them.
     Also slated to come from Silver Phoenix is Whispers from the Void.  From what Moisant told me, it is a horror comic title that is both well versed in the rich mythology of horror monsters, but also puts a unique psychological twist on them.  These beasties are all, at their core, motivated by one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Oh, and the protagonists have to find a way to use these vices to achieve some sort of virtuous end (which doesn't mean that it has to be pleasant). 
     When Kremin came out, my life was starting to get a little better than it had been the two years prior.  When it ended its run, I was about as low as I ever could be.  Yet, perhaps because it is a comic book, it doesn't feel grounded to those times.  It harkens a bit of the adolescent hopefulness and rebellion that most of us keep buried inside, but has enough of a deeper element to maintain the interest of an adult.  If that was the level of quality a man just getting started in the industry stumbled upon, you have to know that it is guaranteed now.

2 comments:

  1. I had no idea what Kremin is or was, a very nicely written and quality post! I say good job and I hope the rest of the week will keep upping the quality :).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great article. My favorite part was then something awesome happened. Nivard Tuazon showed up and the artwork started looking professional, better than second tier artists at Marvel and DC.

    ReplyDelete