Cartozia Tales: Inventive Indie Fantasy Comics for All-Ages
Kickstarted in the fall of 2013, Cartozia Tales might seem like a straightforward continuation to the success of Adventure Time or even Friendship is Magic. It's clearly marketed as appropriate for all-ages, good fun for the whole reading family, especially for those breadwinners have grown up with Tolkien, Rowling, and the like, now raising children in the world of mass-fantasies from Eragon to Hunger Games. Cartozia manages to stand out, however, and in various respects for that matter.
As the name implies, at the heart of Cartozia is the map of the world. Divvied up by nine indie artists, seven regular and to guests, each issue advances as many storylines, set in the various locales with imaginative names like the Cicilumah Caverns or Upside-Town. The awe-inspiring aspect of the method is that between issues the areas of the map are redistributed among the cartoonists, resulting in unexpected turns of events and shifts of style. The individual stories do not advance in great leaps, but tend to end on nice notes of suspense - bound to effect objections from listeners of bedtime stories.
The collaborative process gives the comic a unique atmosphere with the feeling of a shared world shining nicely through. In addition to plots, characters, creatures, and even style become common property for the collaborators. At times, it is curious to think of the process behind the finished issues: why is there tea in almost every story of the first issue and why do mask bears feature so prominently in the second?
Cartozia isn't a run-of-the-mill LotR knock-off either. While the world is populated by goblins and wizards, it is also the home of the Loutra-Merre (the otter-folk, that is), ruff crows, and the Frishiwog. Cartozia's denizens are inventively thought out and drawn, giving the comic and elevated sense of the fantastic: this isn't just the actual world with elves or vampires added.
Despite being an all-ages comic, Cartozia pulls off a balanced maturity in content with already the first issue featuring a moral dilemma involving danger of dismemberment for the protagonist of the story - that turns out alright at the end, of course!
Cartozia is also loads of fun. It's got poo jokes (yes, even a mask bear poos in the woods), puns, invented vocabulary, and hilarious reference jokes, like the appearance of Conan Doyle, barbarian and detective. For the crafty in the family the issues also suggest ways of playing with the world of Cartozia in addition to reading about it. There are paper craft dolls with cut-out clothes, instructions for making one's own mask bear mask, and a character even gives instructions for starting out a career in amateur cartography. With features like these, Cartozia is really well suited for countless hours of play, invention, and fun.
One admirable thing to add is the variety of active protagonists. They come from different cultures, ages, species, and, most importantly, feature various kinds of roles for both boys and girls - my favorites being the brave half-otter-girl Minnaig and the shapeshifting 13-year-old war child Sylvia.
I can't recommend Cartozia highly enough, it has similar warmth and originality to Elfquest, the talent of nine indie artists, and a creative method without compare. Now only to decide whether to translate them for my future kids, or just be patient and have them learn a bit of English before taking them to Cartozia..
The complete ten-issue subscription is currently $30 for the digital versions or $59+shipping for printed at www.cartozia.com.
The regular creators for Cartozia Tales are Sarah Becan, Lucy Bellwood, Isaac Cates, Shawn Cheng, Lupi McGinty, Tom Motley, Jen Vaughn, and Mike Wenthe. Guest artist include Kevin Cannon,Jon Chad,Evan Dahm, Dylan Horrocks, Jon Lewis, Adam Koford, James Kochalka, Corinne Mucha,Luke Pearson, and Chris Wright