“The Arcane Cocktail Enthusiast” #2 features Lark Leraar, a bespoke bartender with a little magical secret: the drinks she makes are out of this world. Warning: spoilers ahead.
“The Arcane Cocktail Enthusiast” has a pretty simple premise: magical bartender, magical bar, magical creatures, New Guy Bill. The first issue suffers from expository overload, but the whole book improves significantly from the first issue to the second. Rider and Puppo’s creatures and concepts are vivid and interesting, and the second issue adds more originality.
Puppo’s art improves from the first to the second issue as well. First issues often feature an indie team trying to capture their style, and “The Arcane Cocktail Enthusiast” #1 relies on cartooning that’s a little too juvenile for the characters the team is trying to create. The colors are very bright and very slick, without much texture or shadow to help build mood. It’s not bad but it’s also not polished, and the color palette is too broad and vivid to support the kind of fine detail Puppo wants to include. Issue #2 sees Puppo solidify a style that suits far better, with more adult facial expressions and subtler cartoon touches. Suddenly, it’s a bar, and an intriguing one at that.
Rider and Puppo work well together on what can only be described as classic comic action. A musician who’s secretly an actual musical instrument, and a mystical one at that? The concept relies on a strong visual payoff, and Puppo’s design work here is wonderful. From battling angry seaweed to rage-filled bar patrons, Lark and New Guy Bill’s adventure in this second issue is intriguing and pretty well executed. Puppo’s layouts are straightforward but stylish, with some nice border details during some of the conflict. Where the book stumbles a bit is in its pacing, as there’s still too much action in a single issue to really let much character development hit. Lark’s a competent, pretty, thin, talented wizard whose skills have yet to falter and whose knowledge is vast and a bit unbelievable, given her age. She’s a familiar strong female archetype, and because she’s familiar we require a bit more of an in than we get – save some potential emotional growth regarding her missing father. We need to slow down soon to see some of that vulnerability that makes protagonists relatable and worthy of our esteem.
Lee and Kelley do excellent work in this issue. The color palette is toned down in terms of saturation, which helps Puppo’s art feel more lived-in and dynamic, and there’s even some texturing to help puncture the sheen of the previous issue. Of special note is the attention paid to the woody glow in the bar brawl splash, and the eerie underground blues and greens in later scenes under Alcatraz. Despite the action lines, Puppo’s art isn’t always dynamic, and the high level of detail means some scenes and poses can feel more like a series of pin-ups than sequential action. Lee and Kelley’s work here helps soften the edges, and enhances the detail and care Puppo puts into each page.
Rae’s lettering is stylish and clean, with plenty of splashy sound effects in action scenes. Rae picks a main dialogue font with some breadth and flair on the Ds and Ss that suits the supernatural story, and keeps the balloons consistent and the tails pretty standard. The blue background the team uses for Lark’s captions makes that white text particularly hard to read, and that may be down to size as much as the color itself. Placement and styling become difficult when every detail in a panel matters, and there’s less room for experimentation and subtlety when the page is already full. Puppo favors a lot of intricacy, and the script should be tailored accordingly.
Overall, “The Arcane Cocktail Enthusiast” shows real promise in its second issue with a more refined art style and loads of creative concepts and thinking. Rider and Puppo labor long and hard to fill each page with intricacy and wonder, and Lee and Kelley help bring the art to life. Rae keeps the book readable and lends that pro letterer touch that’d otherwise weigh everything down. There’s plenty of things to capture our interest here and keep us on board for another issue in the future.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 – “The Arcane Cocktail Enthusiast” has a tendency to move too quickly through its action, but there’s enough raw imagination and creativity throughout to keep reading.