Short stories are in short supply in most comics nowadays. Occasionally DC or Marvel will put out an anthology comic. Those’ll set you back $8, and while often well worth it – the recent Time Warp anthology from Vertigo had some spectacular stories in it, for example – they’re still few and far between. In indy comics, and particularly small-press fare, though, short stories thrive. A lot of autobio comics are comprised of multiple vignettes, and Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve is almost entirely made up of short stories (whenever he gets around to putting an issue out, anyway).
Tales to Admonish #1, then, has an edge right off. The plural in the title is no misnomer, as writer Andrez Bergen and artist Matt Kyme present three short stories, each a different genre – crime, superhero/comedy, and supernatural noir, respectively. Bergen and Kyme bring a macabre sense of humor to each story, and it makes for a really enjoyable read.
Part of the strength of the book is that the characters feel well-defined. Bergen and Kyme put some established archetypes to good use – the do-gooder superhero, the gritty noir detective, to name a few – and while those provide a base for the characters, the creators fill in the rest on their own to great effect. The criminals in the first story are funny and relatable, and the comic shop they frequent is recognizable to anyone familiar at all with the direct comics market. The second story, of the caped hero Sir Omphalos out on patrol, is the shortest and sparsest story, relying more heavily on the character types than any of the other story and filling in the rest of the story with a sly, winking humor.
The final story, “Lazarus Slept.”, is easily the strongest of the trio. The tale of P.I. Roy Sherer and his assistant, Suzie, hits exactly the right mixture of all of its parts – noir, supernaturalism/horror, and droll, dark humor. The reader joins the pair as they’re in the middle of a case, and their interaction – as well as the interactions they have with the third, undead character in the story – welcomes the reader in like a friendly handshake. It’s as if these characters have been around for ages. There is backstory behind the dialogue and outside of this short story that comes through perfectly well without being said. That unwritten depth is the truest sign of a well-crafted story.
Matt Kyme’s artwork is solid throughout this comic. His style is versatile enough to comfortably illustrate three very different stories, and he uses enough variety in his linework and his page composition that it’s almost as if each story has a different artist. It helps that he colors each story differently as well – the crime story with a more ‘realistic’ palette, the story of Sir Omphalos with bright primary colors, and the noir piece with more muted tones. Kyme gives each story its own distinct look and feel, and it adds a ton to the overall book.
Tales to Admonish #1 is a great read, really fun and different. The book bills itself as “push[ing] the boundaries of silver age comics, pulp, horror & detective noir—with a surreal bent.” That sums it up quite nicely. The digital edition of the book is available here for only $1.00. It’s hard to go wrong with three complete stories for a buck.