[EDIT: Since this post was written, the outlinks have changed. Instead of clicking on anything headed to From the Dust's site, click here instead. Alas, most of the information I linked to is no longer available. So it goes. For more info, see the artist's comment below or contact him through the new site.]
One perk of being “the” recognized expert in Mormon comics is that every once in a while, people come to me and share what they’re working on. These past couple weeks, I’ve gotten all sorts of free swag in the mail from creators. The Book of Mormon stuff I’ll share with you now.
Today I’m writing about From the Dust; yesterday was iPlates (read). I read both for Family Home Evening last Monday (correction: I guess it was TWO Mondays ago now) with my three boys, aged three to nine.
From the Dust creator Michael Mercer was extremely generous in the package he sent. He sent a fullsized poster, themed playing cards, bookmarks, character cards—all sorts of stuff—and issue #0.
Unlike iPlates which is sold in an oversized book, From the Dust is printed and shaped and sized like a traditional comic book. You know, like Superman or Richie Rich or something. He sent it in a bag with a board just like the collector’s edition any #0 is presumed to be. If this were 1993 I imagine every Mormon teen with a sense for investment would be buying several copies to hoard for future resell.
No question #0 is a handsome comic book with its white cover. Open it up and the letter to “First Fan” includes a printed signature and wax seal (the Seal of Baruch). But not just that—Mercer has signed it again with an actual pen, and numbered it (my copy is 234/250). This is the sort of personal touch that I have to believe will endear early readers to him.
Assuming, of course, the work is worthy of such endearment.
And that’s a little hard to comment on after reading #0.
Mercer’s work is attractive in a Disney vein (something he clearly works on)—reminds me of Disney’s Richard Rich era in fact (insert your own Mormon comment here)—and he creates sympathetic characters right away. Which is good because the villains introduced in the opening sketch are only unlikeable because they were cruel to a pair of characters we fell in love in over the course of just eight panels.
That too-short excerpt is part of the story that appears in issue #1.
#0 also includes some unfinished pages from the forthcoming #2, which introduces Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi. This was, for me, the most exciting look at the “From the Dust Universe”: Laman and Lemuel aren’t evil—they aren’t even bad. And that makes me think that Mercer is planning on giving these characters a great deal of nuance. And if there’s one thing I demand from Book of Mormon fiction, it’s more nuance than Nephi gave us. Which was none.
But I’m not surprised nuance is part of Mercer’s game given what else is in #0: lots and lots of evidence that he’s been planning this project with depth (character designs, setting designs, scripture references, historical whatnots). So while it lacks the jazzy sense of improv and fun we saw in iPlates, it does give a sense of fancypants professionalism and long-term planning that I haven’t seen in a Mormon comics project since Mike Allred’s Golden Plates. But like that project, I also fear that From the Dust might prove too ambitious to be supportable on the money available in the Mormon market.
From the letter on the final page:
Please me patient as I grow this project.The beginning will be slow as I find, add, and train artists for my team.
Boy. Good luck with that.
But I like his attitude, the way Mercer is mixing mainstream Mormon sincerity with a sense of fun and irony. If you pick up a #0 (they’re almost gone!), you’ll read a great in-comics conversation between Mercer and Jeremiah (played by a frog in From the Dust) in which Mercer is excited to put dragons in his comic while Jeremiah frustratedly tries to explain he was being metaphorical. And consider the content warning on the back cover:
Parental Guidance Suggested
- Infrequent but Intense Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
- Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or Reference
- Infrequent/Mild Suggestive Themes
- Infrequent/Mild Frightening or Scary Images
- Infrequent but Intense Depictions of Life-Threatening Situations, including famine, war, fatigue, and others
- Frequent Intense Quoting of Scripture
Just seeing this on the cover makes me like Mercer a little more. It’s both an open-arms concession to the alarmist part of the Mormon market and an ironic wink and nod to the other end of the market.
And for the record, nothing in these too-short excerpts was too much of anything for my kids. In fact, the only real problem was the too-shortness of everything in #0—it was over before they could really get into it. If you’re thinking of trying this out with your kids and are not a “collector”, just start with #1.
As for me, though I admit I’m not quite convinced from the supersmall excerpts I’ve read that Mercer has the chops to pull off the storytelling end of this insanely ambitious project, I am impressed by his depth of planning and his ambition, and I hope he gets many issues in which to prove himself. I hope waffly things like religious neutrality and ambitious things like keeping it tv (and making it a monthly!) prove successful rather than disastrous, but for now all I can do is tell you about the project and hope for the best.
Although this project is different in almost every way from iPlates in terms of genesis, execution, and goals, the fact that both are coming out at this time and actually producing product, gives me a lot of hope. As I mention in an article I recently wrote on Mormon comics (available soon), Mormon comics always come back around to the Book of Mormon. And innovation in Book of Mormon comics should be a good sign that Mormon comics of all types may be nearing some sort of renaissance. Which I find exciting.
Read From the Dust and iPlates and be excited with me.