By Jon Chad
44 pages, black and white
I love mini-comics. For those who haven’t encountered them before, they’re usually handmade comics that are assembled by the artist and sold at conventions. Every year at the Small Press Expo, almost all of my money ends up going towards mini-comics, which are often hard to find anywhere else. One of my favorite purchases last year was Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth by Jon Chad, a comic over two feet tall drawn as a single continuous image showing Leo Geo climbing slowly through the planet. Having just read his new mini-comic Bikeman, I’m all the more excited to buy more of Chad’s comics, because he’s now proven himself to me as not being a one-hit-wonder.
The world of Bikeman appears to be a much earlier society than ours, with clothing that brings medieval times to mind. There’s one big difference, though, which is apparent at an immediate glance. While bicycles are still made of metal, they’re also alive. And so, in Bikeman #1, we get to watch two villagers bring their old bicycle Cart-puller to the legendary Bikeman, to trade not only Cart-puller but more importantly old bicycle parts in exchange for a brand-new bicycle for the village.
Bikeman sold me almost instantly on its original, clever idea, but there’s more to the experience than just that. Chad’s an excellent writer, introducing us to how the world of Bikeman works through the conversations between Shif and Pedl as they journey to the legendary Bikeman. Once we’ve learned all we can from them, though, the focus shifts over to Bikeman himself, letting us see what his life of bicycle shepherding and creating is like, as well as hinting about Bikeman’s origins. Bikeman is a half-dozen different genres all mashed up into one, but it still feels fresh and unique. Chad also does a lot of worldbuilding here, hinting about legends, strange creatures, pacts, and all sorts of ideas that we see just the tip of in this first issue. It makes you feel like this is a well thought-out comic, and that Chad is doing more than just throwing ideas at the wall.
It’s worth saying at this point that while Chad’s writing is great, his art is perhaps even better. He draws his characters in a soft, understated way, with gentle ink lines and a rounded face. The character of Bikeman, with his bear mask and garb, could have come across as deliberately terrifying or savage. Instead under Chad’s pen, he’s mysterious and guarded, but you also instantly trust him based on his appearance. Chad also packs a ridiculous amount of detail into his comics, drawing every single leaf on a tree, the texture of the bark on the trunk, and the individual links on a bicycle chain. Chad is the sort of artist who clearly would rather take the extra time to get everything looking just right, and we as readers benefit from that extra care.
Last but not least, Chad clearly loves bicycles in real life; there’s no other way to explain the amount of love and care that he puts into talking about and illustrating bicycles in this story. As someone who only recently rediscovered the joy of bicycling thanks to deciding to tackle a triathlon, I think Chad’s managed to bring that excitement and fun to life in his comic. Even if you aren’t into bikes, though, I think you’ll like this book. If you aren’t going to be at a convention Chad is attending this year, you can order his comics at jonchad.com. Trust me, they’re well worth it. Highly recommended.