Gene is a friend, and someone I’ve enjoyed working with many times, even a partner on one of my signed prints, so you have to expect I’m going to be biased on the subject of his new project, let’s get that out front. MAE does not need any special favors to get a positive review from me, though, I like nearly everything about it. Nearly? I’ll get to that.
As you can easily see if you look at the cover above, Gene is a very talented artist. He’s a new writer, and on that front, he does well here. Mae is a small-town college girl returning to her high school haunts to have pizza with an old friend, Dahlia, but soon finds herself involved in some kind of trouble and confusion revolving around the return of her sister Abbie, who disappeared years earlier. Even before we see Abbie, we encounter angry people who are out to do her harm, and when we finally meet Mae’s sister, she’s in jail. Abbie spins a highly unlikely tale to Mae about where she’s been — some kind of other world, a fantasy world where Abbie has been living a very different life, including becoming Queen of a tribe of talking cats. Mae is skeptical, but pretty soon some very weird characters show up that indicate Abbie was not making it all up. And they also are out to do her serious harm! It’s a wild ride, and a fun one, with terrific art and coloring (Gene assisted by Rose McClain and Art Lyon) and cool hand-lettering by Zander Cannon.
Okay, the part I didn’t like? Gene seems to be taking inspiration from Japanese Anime art, not in a major way, but he’s taken on that style’s penchant for very large eyes. I’ve never been a fan of Anime art, but at least there it’s kind of a cartoony exaggeration. Gene’s art is more realistic, and the large eyes tend, to my eyes, to simply make the characters look much younger than intended (college-age, mostly). This created a dissonance that kept pulling me out of the story, as if 12-year-olds were acting and talking like 20-year-olds. And I’m probably in the minority on this point, but there it is. In any case…