OCHO IS MORE THAN A NUMBER
When I first started backing projects on Kickstarter, I only backed my friends. Comic book creators that I know who were looking to expand their project base. I just saw it as a different venue to get my buddies’ books. I didn’t put a lot of thought into what crowd-funding meant, or how the “crowd” side worked. I am basically an anti-social creature after all, so crowd = social = something not too keen on. I had to get outside my comfort zone to see that this was its own community, its own method of expanding the visibility of projects. And I started looking at the rest of the projects available. Javier Hernandez was the person that turned me on to Eric Mengel’s OCHO Kickstarter.
I checked out Mengel’s intro video to his Kickstarter for OCHO 27; it was goofy, it was funny, and highly addictive. As he showed off the tools of his trade and explained how all the work was done by hand, from the art to the lettering to the cross-hatching, I was hooked. I put down my support, and shortly had not one, but two issues of OCHO in my hand. Coming hot on the heels of getting Jesse Gutierrez’ PHANTOM OF THE BARRIO, I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t something in the water in Arizona that’s churning out some amazing self-published comics. Mengel noted he had been doing OCHO for 20 years now. And it shows in his craftsmanship. The art is uniformly interesting, the panel work intriguing.
Mengel wears a lot of his influences on his sleeve while creating his own distinctive style. His love of Bronze Age Marvel and DC books especially shines through. I love his Ocho OC logo that is reminiscent of the 70s DC logo. His covers reference famous covers of the 70s and 80s, and OCHO 27 is no exception, referencing a Neal Adams Batman cover, with Mengel’s lavish bright colors. I had taken it at face value that the book was a mini-comic without thinking about it, so I was still surprised when I received a smaller envelope in the mail. Sure enough, the book itself was half the size of a normal comic. I hadn’t read a mini-comic in a bit. Just that simple size, the blue Ocho, the throwback cover, and I knew I was in good hands. The Kickstarter included not just OCHO 27, the current issue, but also older issue 35 in it. I don’t profess to understand Mengel’s numbering scheme, but I rolled with it. It’s like Julio Cortázar’s HOPSCOTCH, but with a blue alien. Even better, Mengel also included a pamphlet origin of OCHO in the package. It was like the Phantom, “for those who came in late” and was much appreciated by this reader. It gave me all I needed, and hey, magic carpet and an alien? I am ready to go.
I grew up on a lot of the same comics as Mengel it looks like. His work really reflects that 70s and 80s superhero ethic, with its mix of angst and humor, its punchy funky dialogue, and the emphasis on this moment, this adventure. I could pick up and follow along. Even with 27 being a continuation from the previous issue, I didn’t feel cheated. Same with 35. A few asterisks, a few footnotes, and I was ready to go. Here is or hero, here is where he’s at, here’s what he does. It was refreshing. While I appreciate the over-arching stories that predominate superhero comics now, it’s nice to get back to a sense of one and done on occasion, and to have the over-arching be accessible. Mengel succeeds at both, at a time when I can’t do that with the Big Two. Mengel’s writing is crisp and clear, it’s what I like in my superhero books. And Ocho, the alien out of step with our world, has his own distinctive voice, his funky cadence. Mengel makes him immediately recognizable in his tone, in his carriage, a seamless blend of art and dialogue, and moreover likeable. In a comic age where so many superheroes are unrecognizable, interchangeable, and unlikeable. Ocho stands out.
Mengel’s art straddles the line of traditional 70s and 80s superhero and more 50s bigfoot style, with the bulky hulk-esque Ocho often resembling a Herb Trimpe, while other times with his magic carpet and his big O t-shirt, there is almost a Jack Cole feel to the pages. I love the thick brush line that Mengel uses through the books, the deep blacks and blockiness that permeate his work. The stark penciling gives a real weight to the pages. And the expressiveness of Ocho’s face… very nice.
In short, OCHO is a fun, easy-going, enjoyable, superhero book. It’s not complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. I’m glad I ponied up my Kickstarter bucks on it. And I would do it again. Mengel has a Kickstarter out of for the next issue, 28 up and running now. Check it out. Put in a few bucks to support an engaging artist. Mengel can be found at http://ericmengel.blogspot.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ocho-Comics/188955577809403 .