Comikaze Spotlight: Kel McDonald and Jose Pimienta’s From Scratch

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On the far edge of the exhibition booths with towers of toys, old and new comics, and any other merchandise tied to pop culture of the past and present you could imagine, Stan Lee’s Comikaze’s Artist Alley stood in modest rows. As per our usual approach to any comic con, we first focused our attention on this section looking for independent work and new experiments in the comicbook form (based on Stan Lee’s introduction to the extended weekend celebration of comics and pop culture, he insisted that “comic books” should be “comicbooks,” and in honor of that, I’ll stick to the nomenclature he prefers). After winding through the tables and passing by plenty of illustrators who were selling prints, we stopped at Jose Pimienta’s table, lured in by copies of The Leg, which he illustrated (and I reviewed in the past), sitting at the edge of the table.

As fans of the illustration style in The Leg, we decided to pick up From Scratch, illustrated by Pimienta and written by Kel McDonald. Independently published by McDonald, From Scratch contains plenty of familiar creatures of the supernatural that we’ve come to know, but rather than showcasing the powers we have seen them utilize for decades, these beings exhibit their more human components and foibles. Set in the 1920s, From Scratch has a hint of a film noir look to it, but it is far looser in its storytelling and visual style than most noir comics out there.

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Noir Pulp-esque Cover for From Scratch

From Scratch opens with Aaron and Seth arguing in a dark speakeasy. Aaron has agreed to join Seth and his group on a job to eliminate a Mr. Zamboni and his group of mobsters, but not without some doubt about where this first foray into paid killing will take him in the future.

When the two meet the rest of the team, we begin to realize that the crew is not composed of your average hit men. Aaron and Seth are vampires as well as Loki, who also possesses specific sorcery power in addition to his ones as an undead creature of the night. Beyond the vampires, we also have Sasha the werewolf and Lady Kimaya the ice demon, and all of these folks take their instructions for the job from a demon with a sinister grin and face paint to match named Darkfire or, in more human terms, Mr. Tamura.

After the introduction to the cast, the plot focuses on one specific job for the group as their more human characteristics such as common sense lead them into blunders and an overall messy and too overt execution of their task. In the course of running through the halls of a stately art deco hotel looking for their target, Mr. Zamboni, the members of the team attempt to handle the order as humans, causing struggle that leads to them resorting to using their supernatural powers. Despite your natural assumption that these characters have a far greater advantage in accomplishing their deed because of the fact that they are not human, their powers cause more inconvenience than efficiency; the superpowers cause more destruction to the building and make far more noise, making the demon assassins less anonymous and quiet in their attempt to clear out everyone guarding Zamboni.

From Scratch sets its sights on placing familiar supernatural characters in circumstances and settings that deviate from their archetypal courses and succeeds. In addition to McDonald’s fun and distinctive script, Pimienta’s work here shines, with each page containing a unique visual element, ranging from varying lettering to abstract forms created from the bloodshed of the crew’s deed. While the book is comprehensive and complete, it leaves some fascinating remaining questions open, perfect for a second volume and even more. Unfortunately, only one book for the From Scratch crew and scenario exists, which is the real shame because it generates an imaginative and absurdist world with strong characters that I would love to learn more about.

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Example of Mixed Art and Lettering Style

Regardless of my disappointment that more of From Scratch does not exist, it stands as an excellent example of the type of gems buried in the crowded aisles of the Artist Alley of any comic convention. Next time you’re at a con, take some time away from the walls of mesmerizing Funko toys to talk to creators at their tables in Artist Alley. You’ll most likely discover a work that tests your expectations for comicbooks, and that’s always a treat well worth the time and effort.

From Scratch is written by Kel McDonald and illustrated by Jose Pimienta and is available in print and electronic forms here

Also, keep an eye out soon for our wrap up on Comikaze, which will be posted on Forces of Geek soon!

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