Michael Aushenker is one of those folks that I automatically associate with one particular genre of comics storytelling — that being slapstick humor — but then, I also consider him to be a cartoonist who draws as well as writes his own material. What the hell do I know, though? His latest self-published release, The Ghost Pirate, puts paid to both of those notions in that it’s decidedly not aimed directly at the funnybone and is also, in point of fact, a collaboration with artist Marcus Collar that relegates Aushenker to scripting duties only.
All of which is to say, I suppose, that if you think you know “what to expect” from a Michael Aushenker comic — as I surely did — you’re in for something of a surprise here.
A time-twisting tale that starts off in 1775 with our titular pirate, who answers to the name of Molitar, slaughtering a bunch of British soldiers who are tasked with defending some godforsaken island and happen to be standing, unfortunately for them, between Molitar and his (you probably saw this coming) buried treasure chest, the subsequent opening of said chest unleashes a world of hurt on the one surviving Brit, as well as on Molitar himself — and then we fast-forward to the present day and meet a tight ensemble of characters (mostly cops — you’ve been warned), and what we end up with is part police procedural/part “ancient curse” narrative, and even part sex comic.
Which makes things interesting, for sure, even if the premise feels like it’s pulling itself in several different directions before we even get a firm grasp on things. On the plus side, Aushenker’s characterization and dialogue are rock-solid and we get a real sense of the very relatable day-to-day concerns of his cast. On the minus side, the circumstances that lead to the big confrontation on the pirate-cursed island feel a bit forced and almost overly convenient. If this turns out to be the first issue of an ongoing project, then all of the strong “world-building” on offer will pay off down the road — but if this turns out to be a one-off story, then the pacing is pretty weird by default as we get lots of detailed backstory that ends up being laid out in service to pretty quick and somewhat predictable ending.
Certainly Collar’s artwork is nice — his faces and body language are quite expressive and there’s a real fluidity to the book’s overall aesthetic that applies equally well to its reality-based and more fantastical elements. I believe “seamless” is the word we’re looking for here, and that’s downright crucial for a comic that has a whole bunch of its fingers in any number of pies. The ghosts and ghouls seem to be what Collar has the most fun drawing (who wouldn’t?), but he proves himself here to be a highly versatile talent who can handle more or less anything and evverything the script throws at him. I dig that.
And, in the final analysis, I dig this comic, too. I’d like to see these characters get another go-’round, either against some other supernatural force or maybe even a more “earthly” antagonist. Viewed entirely on its own terms, The Ghost Pirate has some fairly large “strikes” against it, sure, but the pluses still far outweigh the minuses, and if it turns out that this is the first installment of some sort of series, it makes for a more than solid debut installment.
I don’t see any specific ordering information for this book up on Aushenker’s Cartoon Flophouse website yet, but my best guess is that if you reach out to him via his contact info on there, he’s be happy to sell you a copy, so do check out https://www.cartoonflophousecomics.com/
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