In Review: SteamLore: A Curious Publication #1

A fantastic replica of a spy's adventures hidden in plain sight.

The cover: An unidentified woman who wears leather gauntlets, holding two pistorls covered with all kinds of mechanical devices, looking down upon a publication laying on a glass table. It’s the newest edition of Amberleigh’s Quartley Journal of Adventure Esoterica. Her reflection in the glass shows her to be shocked at what she’s looking at. Is it because she finds the contents disturbing or that the stories deal with her adventures? Great cover by Chris Allen giving a good tease of what awaits readers. The coloring is also very Steampunk, with it’s faded bronzes and tans. The only bright colors come from the woman’s chest and the lights blinking on her guns. Overall grade: A

The story: A Mr. Neville Greene in a Victorian office receives his afternoon tea from his secretary and a package. He finds it’s the latest issue of Amberleigh’s Quarterly. She’s shocked at seeing the periodical, which features a woman wearing an odd leather outfit with metal attachments, her bosom amply displayed, and sporting an enormous rifle. With a sigh he dismisses the distraught assistant and reads the entire magazine, as does the reader. This is an exceedingly clever idea for a Steampunk story by Chris Allen. The Quarterly, it’s revealed in the end, is actually the way in which the government alerts its key members as to what actions its special agents have taken to keep the peace. By publishing it as fiction, the activities of this unique agent are quelled as fiction since her exploits are published in a garish adventure magazine. There are three complete stories in this issue: “A Final Ritual”, “The Uninvited Guest”, and “Mrs. Kaye At Her Maiden Voyage.” All are exceptionally fun tales that combine horror, science fiction, and the supernatural superbly. Each story is told as text accompanied by spot illustrations: this is not a conventional comic book. However, by presenting the story in this format Allen makes the reality of this universe stronger. “A Final Ritual” is told in two parts and reads like a lost H.P. Lovecraft tale. It’s a very creepy story with the fate of the planet at stake. “The Uninvited Guest” owes much to Edgar Rice Burroughs and is a terrific action piece set among high society. “Mrs. Kaye” is the shortest story, focusing an the account of a woman who went for an air voyage and unexpected complications arose. The Quarterly also contains several advertisements which are completely believable and humorous. The issue ends as it begins, in Greene’s office with a new character joining him. This was excellent reading. Overall grade: A+

The art: Chris Allen is also the artist of this book and his work is absolutely sumptuous and fitting for this genre. The opening two pages of Greene in his office would be at home in any work by Dickens or Trollope. The visuals take a turn to the extraordinary on Page 3 with a full page splash that shows the cover of the Quarterly. It’s amazingly intricate and incredibly cool; I’d buy a magazine with a cover like this in a heartbeat! Every page features spot illustrations emphasizing moments from each story: some to elaborate the setting, others to show the characters in action. Allen’s work on settings are fantastic; look no further than Pages 6 – 10, 15 – 16, 23, 27, and 30 to see how elaborate this book is. The character work is also strong, be it cultists, creatures, or an athletic heroine. Allen’s work is very similar in style to Michael Kaluta’s in its lavishness, elegance, and fine lines; akin to the master artist’s Metropolis. Every page is a feast for the eyes, with my personal favorites including Pages 3, 6, 9, 11, 16 (magnificent panel at the bottom), 19 — panel three, 23 (my favorite of the issue), and all of 30. It’s impossible to go through this book and not think ‘Beautiful’ for every page. Overall grade: A+  

The colors: The majority of this book is black and white imagery on tan colored pages, to simulate the cheap paper used for such a cheap publication of the time. However, the bookend sequences set in Greene’s office and a few of the advertisements are colored by Robby Bevard. The coloring in Green’s quarters spectacularly set the mood of a time long past, with its brown furniture, red carpets, and golden light. The colors used on page three for Amberleigh’s only uses colors for the publication’s title and the image of the heroine in the center. An excellent job. Overall grade: A+

The letters: No credit is given to the letterer, but whoever did this issue did a good job. The letterer created dialogue, handwriting, the text of the ads, the text for the contents of the publication, and the lavish titles for each story. I’m hopefully that in the next issue the proper individual will be credited. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: A fantastic replica of a spy’s adventures hidden in plain sight. Superb thrills and chills with outstanding art. Chris Allen, you better make another, and another, and another…Overall grade: A+

To order SteamLore: A Curious Publication or other books from Antarctic Press go to http://www.antarctic-press.com/html/shop.php

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

    One Comment
  • Marsman
    16 June 2016 at 12:29 am -

    I really enjoyed the book, the art was amazing and the publication was not what the cover was. Very curious and not what you would expect. A+

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