The comic goes from quirky to weird in about 2 seconds. Characters include a bluegill possessed by a 6,000-year-old evil pharaoh, a one-legged, spear-wielding strongman in a new body, and a living doll. Oh, and it may just have the worst title - and also team name, in all of comics: "Nantucket Brown Roasters." What the heck is that?
And yet, Jason Asala's ("Poe") self-published indy book may just be the best thing comic readers have never heard of.
Nantucket Brown Roasters - rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it? - is the story of three unlikely heroes and their quest to right the wrongs done by Khufu, a 6,000-year-old pharaoh. By the way, Khufu is still alive, his essence is just trapped in the mind of one of the heroes, a bluegill appropriately named Fish.
"NBR is my take on super heroes," Asala told CBR News from his home south of Milwaukee. "I wanted this to be fantastic, to rely heavily on fantasy - something worthy of being in a comic. There are other good stories out there, and you don't necessarily need to see them drawn - they can be acted out by real people. I wanted to do something that you can only draw."
Some may compare NBR to an even more messed-up version of "Doom Patrol." And Asala's art is somewhere between Mike Mignola, if he were more cartoony, and "Samurai Jack," if it were darker. But as far as labels go, none really stick to NBR, which Asala publishes under the label House of Usher.
"The star of the comic is Ahab, a character with a sketchy past. Ahab comes to realize -- right before he's about to help Khufu transfer his essence into a robot -- that Khufu is evil. Khufu wants to covertly take over the world. Ahab does his best to stop his quest to become an immortal, and he tries to kill him as he's transferring into a robot body," Asala says. "Ahab, now alone, realizes two things over the course of two years -- there's a fish in the pond that's aware, and there's a doll downstairs with the essence of a little girl trapped inside."
If the "heroes" are off-beat, so too, are the villains. Besides Khufu, who's floating around in the mind of the talking bluegill, there is the army of Aaron Burrs. For those who skipped history class, Aaron Burr has his page in history as the man that challenged Alexander Hamilton (you probably know him best as the face on the $10 bill) to a duel. The duel between Hamilton and Burr is beautifully illustrated by Rich Koslowski ("Three Fingers"), a friend of Asala's, in the second mini-series, "The Second Law of Thermodynamics."
As it turns out, not only did Burr win the duel with Hamilton, but he's also still alive, and only plotting for evil.
"It's an eclectic story, and it has a little bit of early American history in it," Asala says, "But it still has the 'Hulk smash!' payoff."
A school teacher by day, Asala hits the drawing board hardest in the summer time. He's currently working on the "Third Twin," a follow-up to the "Second Law." Each issue comes with a summary of the story so far, Asala says, so readers can choose any issue as a jumping-on point.
"It's a series of mini-series'," Asala explains. "I learned something from the 'Poe' series (which ran 25 issues and was picked up by Sirius). I had an issue count in the 20s, it was steady, but getting new readers was difficult."
Asala hopes that by packing more comic for your buck - "The Second Law of Thermodynamics" is over 80 pages -- that more readers will feel like jumping into the pond with Fish, Ahab, and Daisy Red Buttons.
Asala has spent his time drumming up support at comic book conventions. This year, he'll be at Wizard World, Small Press Expo, and the Mid-Ohio Con. But the con circuit wears him down these days.
"I worked the circuit like a dog from 1996-2000 (with 'Poe'). I burned myself out, but I did well at shows, I moved a lot of books," Asala says. "The toughest thing is fighting history. There are very few success stories of independently published comics. I get emails from some stores that move 10, 15 copies. It's just hard to get stores to carry it. I'm in the "H" section of independents in Previews."
But with villains like the Aaron Burrs, heroes like a talking fish, and cameos of Albert Einstein (who drops in on the "Second Law" to explain that a tomato is not a fruit), the "Nantucket Brown Roasters" may just overcome their place in Previews... and their bizarre team name.