Comic Bastards reviews Erik T. Johnson’s Outliers.
“The Outliers was everything I wanted from an indie comic book. It has fantastic art with a distinct style and story that is creative and full of mystery. I don’t know the world and I don’t know anyone’s origins and that’s great. That’s why I read comic books to learn this stuff and that’s exactly what a lot of creators and readers forget. If every comic handed you everything you needed to know in the beginning then you’d just wait for someone to update the wiki page. The other thing that I instantly loved about the book was the production value. It has a mini slip case cover with a very awesome cover and then underneath is completely different and great as well. It leaves an impression that’s for damn sure.
The story begins with a school bus breaking down. They’re forced to divide the students onto different busses and one student named Jesper is forced to ride the short bus. The other kids instantly begin making fun of him which pisses him off. There’s only one other student on the short bus and he begins taking his aggression out on Tsu. Tsu is considered a mute and it’s not that he can’t talk, but when he does he can only yell and it’s not in English, it’s more like a forgotten language. The bus driver tells Jesper to cool it and they begin driving home. Jesper is pretty relentless though and soon enough you can see why the school pays to have one kid ride the short bus. Jespers rowdiness causes the bus driver to advert his eyes and they slide off the slick road. Jesper and the bus driver crawl out of the bus and call for Tsu. Tsu begins yelling and suddenly a giant Sasquatch/Swamp Thing looking creature arrives and picks up the bus and puts it back on the road. Tsu passes out and the creature walks off; the bus driver picks him up and gets Jesper on the bus and they drive off leaving the strange event behind, the strange event that was witnessed by other strange creatures.
Personally for me when you’re building a new world, no matter how much it resembles our own, it needs to be interesting. The overall structure of that world is what the reader experiences first and that’s exactly what creator Erik T. Johnson does with The Outliners. He pulls a huge bait and switch with Jesper and Tsu, but it works. It works because Tsu can’t introduce himself which makes his character even more interesting. The structure of the story isn’t typical of your average comic book and that’s a great thing! I know that the monthly/weekly reading average for every comic fan is different, but for me I get tired of reading the same structure and format to each comic book. There are of course a few publishers that manage to spice it up, but even the larger independent publishers tend to have a formula. The Outliners has a different structure and while it wouldn’t work for most other comics, it works incredibly well for this one.
I was sold on the art instantly. Since our main character doesn’t talk the art does all of the work in conveying Tsu emotions. He’s an angry character and you can see why after his interaction with Jesper. On top of that everyone just talks to him and never makes an attempt to speak with him. The character designs were very strong and gave a sense of what part of the country and time of the year the story was taking place in. The book only has two colors; the first half is colored in green and the second blue. When I say colored I don’t mean that there are different shades, but rather that black has been replaced for a light green and so on. It works incredibly well and fits Johnson’s art style. The visual storytelling itself is very strong. There’s a natural progression from one panel to the next, but the integrity of the art style is maintained. In some ways Johnson’s style reminded me of James Stokoe’s, which is one of the highest compliments I can pay him.
I’ve been sitting on this book for a while which is a shame because it’s one of those stories that I instantly loved when I read it. It releases this week, but if you didn’t pre-order it I doubt that your local shop is going to randomly have it (depending on where you live). I would definitely recommend you buy it from the site because the shipping package it also pretty damn cool. I think it’s a clever idea and really puts you in a good mood to read the issue once you open it. If you like supernatural stories with a bit of a mystery then definitely check this book out.