Jen Bartel is undoubtedly one of the most beloved names in contemporary comics. Her instantly recognisable illustrations have graced the covers of pretty much every comics publisher, from the Big Two to Dark Horse through IDW, Archie to Image to Valiant, BOOM!, Vault and even Dynamite— Bartel is a one woman reason to argue for the importance of variant covers as important artistic real estate for young artists to showcase their talents. Her iconic reimaginings of classic characters and her candy colored fashion illustration have garnered Bartel a huge online following, many of whom have clamoured to see her style regularly translated to the narrative world of interiors.
Naturally, fans of Bartel were incredibly excited when it was announced that she would be drawing an ongoing title at Image called Blackbird, written by Sam Humphries. They describe the book as “Harry Potter meets Riverdale.” But Jen Bartel has actually already made a wonderful comic alongside her husband Tyler, a comic called Crystal Fighters, which until now was only available on Stela as a webcomic. And which Dark Horse is releasing in trade paperback for the first time! And here’s the cover:
Crystal Fighters is a fun, fresh take on the classic magical girl stories which have so clearly influenced Bartel’s output. The story follows Stella, a bored teen gamer who has grown up surrounded by VR gaming but has always had her options restricted by her parents who want her to play suitable “age-appropriate” games. That’s how she finds Crystal Fighters, a positive and pastel world of cutesy characters… where all is not as it seems, as Stella discovers an exhilarating underground magical girl fighting ring that exists within the confines of the apparently all ages game. Crystal Fighters in an enjoyable read, and for fans of Bartel an incredible study of her evolution as an artist.
This is a particularly interesting and smart move from Dark Horse, who over the last few years have created a cottage industry in reprinting cool self-published or out of print comics. Crystal Fighters joins some other really great books to have been given a second life as reprinted trades, like Kristen Gudsnuk’s Henchgirl and Matt Kindt’s 2 Sisters as well as a huge array of English language manga translations and classic golden age North American comics. Jen is obviously at the top of her game, and for Dark Horse getting her name on a book they can sell in comic shops is a huge advantage with Jen’s fans hungry for more of her work. Crystal Fighters will be coming out in August this year… a full three months before Image’s Blackbird!