The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal
Writer and Artist: E. K. Weaver
Publisher: Iron Circus Comics
A Review by Christoph Staffl
The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal is a 500+ page monster with everything you want from a comic about an epic road-trip from Berkeley to Providence. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down and enjoyed everything in just one sitting. This comic features intriguing characters with relatable problems, artwork that pulls you in, and a road-trip with a lot of detours. But let’s talk about one thing at a time.
Amal is in a difficult situation as we first meet him. He just canceled his arranged marriage to his girlfriend and came out to his parents. To let all of this stuff sink in, he decides to have a few drinks at a bar. He blacks out, and as he wakes up in his apartment, TJ is offering him breakfast. As it turns out, they made a pact the night before: to drive to Providence together.
Amal wants to be at his sister’s graduation, and TJ has his own reasons. This starting point is charming, as are the characters. For one, Amal shares everything; he just has to get it off his chest. TJ, on the other hand, is the complete opposite: secretive, mysterious, and strange. He even pays for everything, and over the course of the story, you begin to theorize how he does it, but never quite get a hold of it.
I like stories where you have to figure things out on your own, and The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal has a couple of those things. Eventually E. K. Weaver shares the truth, but up until that moment, the reader is in the dark, or you are at least not sure what the truth might be. A significant part of this is how he fleshed out the characters. You get the feeling that there are many more stories to be told, and this is just one aspect of it. It seems to be one of those adventures that shapes a character and how he or she handles things in the future. Their developments, therefore, feel natural and authentic, as well as a result of their interactions, and not just because the plot wants them to be at points A, B, and C.
What is an excellent story without a similarly impressive artwork? Lucky for us, E. K. Weaver can handle that as well. The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal is drawn entirely in black and white, which means your mind has to fill in the gaps. I like that because it makes everything even more realistic. If you don’t know what I mean, check out Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, where he goes into greater detail. But the idea is, the more abstract or simple something is, the more you can identify yourself with the story or character because you fill the gaps with things you know and have experienced yourself. Even though TJ and Amal are complete characters in and of themselves, you feel like a part of their time together.
The artwork is also very expressive in both facial expressions and body language. This is especially true for the silent scenes and silent panels. You know what they are thinking and how they are feeling. It is the perfect example of how to show emotions, and not just tell me about them. When someone feels uncomfortable talking about a specific topic, or when it is an awkward situation, or when they are just happy – you see and feel these emotions. In between the black and white pages, there are few double-page spreads in full color. They are rare, but when they come up, it is incredible. Drawn with watercolors, they underline the situation before and set the stage for something new.
The Verdict: Read it!
The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal shares a story that feels compelling and real. You don’t want to miss out on this epic adventure.