Small towns hold a particular charm with their main streets lined with quaint shops of homemade goods, a soda shop with real ice cream, old-time television sales and repairs, a gasoline station, and perhaps a single stoplight standing as a beacon of the last vestiges of a simpler life in American history. Upon one’s first flip through the warm and inviting colors that dominate the pages of White Ash: Chapter One, one would think that White Ash is a welcoming village in the rural mountains of Pennsylvania; however, upon reading this 50+ page book, this mining town has a whopper of a secret!
The aptly named publisher White Ash Comic has brought together the creative genius of writer/producer Charlie Stickney (Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, Hulu, and Scholastic Productions), artist Conor Hughes (recipient of Mark Millar’s new talent showcase and who has worked with Image Comics among others), and colorist Fin Cramb (Savant, Planet of the Apes). Resonating with a “something funny happened on the way to the forum” vibe, the creative team has introduced readers to a young man, Aleck, who is heading off to college on the same day that a tall, handsome, mysterious drifter breezes into town and takes a job at the local mine. Aleck, who just wants to get out of town, gets waylaid by a mining accident that reveals a rather large secret….no, you’ll have to read the book to find out.
Stickney spins a riveting yarn from the opening pages of introducing the stranger to following Aleck as he prepares to embark on the next chapter of his life. While he takes care to lay the groundwork for his main characters, Stickney provides a plethora of supporting characters that are more than fleeting. Instead, these second-tier characters occupy the canvas with charm and charisma. Honestly, the entire cast feels as though they could be real and inhabiting the White Ash towns of America. The writing flows well and does not overburden the speech bubbles; enough is said that needs to be said. Although there is serious stuff happening, Stickney finds room to add a bit of humor to balance everything out nicely. Stickney has assuredly established a universe in which we’ll be anxious to read more in subsequent issues.
The magic of the narrative is matched and complemented by Hughes’ art. Hughes balances his use of thick, deliberate lines with the soft, slender lines that flourish across each page. The facial expressions are full of life, and stolen glances are memorable and flirtatious. His panel layouts are diverse throughout, and Hughes uses different angles in each panel so as to keep the visual experience fresh and engaging. And, pacing is established in time with the narrative beats – Stickney and Hughes have definitely connected and found their creative stride.
That leaves Cramb and his color palette. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, Cramb uses warm pastel colors that invite the reader into White Ash, presumably a charming, little town that everybody would want to visit. But, it is a clever façade that is used so efficiently in Cramb’s capable hands. He pulls in earthy tones when in the mine and then cool colors for the nighttime scenes. Each page, if not panel, pops and propels the eyes ever forward and deeper into the unfolding story.
White Ash and this powerhouse trio comprised of Stickney, Hughes, and Cramb are ones to read and watch. The caliber and collaboration of writing and visuals in this series are phenomenal and truly worth the time to seek out, especially if supernatural stories attract your attention and interest. The first issue is currently available to order at the White Ash website store, as well as some associated branding merchandise. And, issue two of White Ash is scheduled to drop on February 2, 2018. Make haste and enjoy!