Crowdfunding Review: “Tyger Blue” (Retro Graphic Books)

Welcome back to another Crowdfunding Review here at The Splintering.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at Tyger Blue, a 52-page sci-fi action book written and created by Matthew Fowler and featuring illustrations by Jose Garcia and lettering by the prolific Eric Weathers. For those of you not familiar with our review format, we grade a crowdfunding campaign on four distinct categories:

  • Book Content and Quality
  • Communication and Fulfillment
  • Packaging and Shipping
  • Stretch Goals and Bonuses

Does this tyger have teeth, or did it leave me with a case of “Tyger Blueballs?” 

Book Content and Quality

Set in 1935, Tyger Blue is the story of a living weapon created to be a warrior for a Chicago mafia family. The titular Tyger Blue is a massive, genetic monstrosity that resembles a were-tiger in a martial arts gi. Tyger Blue is not the only animal-human hybrid created to fight battles for the Reganci family. There are other fearsome were-beasts, including Falcon Red, Cobra Orange, Moray Yellow, and Tyger Blue’s father, Tyger Grey.

On what appears to be his debut mission, Tyger Grey is killed by a rival mob. When his lifeless body is returned to home base, Grey’s son Tyger Blue takes the news very hard. Based on Blue’s reaction, Don Reganci and his underlings decide that he is a loose cannon, attacking Blue at Grey’s funeral and knocking him unconscious.

What follows is a flurry of fight scenes where Blue faces off against each of his fellow beasts one at at time. It’s a very simple plot that does a very good job at allowing Garcia’s art to shine, but accomplishes very little else. For long stretches of the book, the only text to be read comes from snippets taken from William Blake’s poem The Tyger, which many comic fans might recognize from the Tyger, Tyger episode of Batman the Animated Series

I’d be curious to do a word-for-word count on the William Blake poem vs. actual Tyger Blue story content… Hurm…

With the story as thin as it is, there is very little character development beyond the first few pages, and the characters’ motivations, particularly the villains, simply don’t make sense. It’s never completely clear why Don Reganci doesn’t just kill Blue when he had the chance, and his actions at the end of the book are equally bizarre.  

On the other hand, the art in Tyger Blue is phenomenal (© Michael Bancroft). Having briefly touched on Jose Garcia’s artwork above, it is worth reiterating that the lack of text really gives the art a lot of room to breathe, and Garcia makes good use of this freedom. Similar to a well-done action manga, the fights have a lot of style and flash, and the page layouts are dynamic with a lot of verticality – again drawing from Asian artistic influence. Garcia also plasters traditional, Asian-inspired representations of animals as backgrounds for several of the larger splash-style panels and pages. It’s a nice touch used to great effect, and it adds exponentially to Tyger Blue’s already impressive visual flare. 

I almost never complain about black and white artwork, as I recognize how much more expensive color art can be and it can look great when done well. In Tyger Blue’s case, however, the art might have benefited from a few injections of color, particularly given that the characters all have colors in their names (Moray Yellow, Cobra Orange, etc.). Still, that’s a small gripe for what is otherwise a job well done – artistically, that is. 

Pretty.

There are a few other quirks that sets Tyger Blue apart, for better or worse. The book itself has heavier, glossy paper stock, and its dimensions are slightly larger than a typical comic book. Unless it has a perfect bound spine and can sit on a shelf, I personally prefer that comics stick to standard dimensions and format. Given its size, Tyger Blue doesn’t fit quite right with a standard polybag and board, which irks me. 

There is also a page with a QR code is inserted at the top, giving you the option of scanning it and watching a fight play out as a motion comic on YouTube rather than on the page. Seeing as how there aren’t many words of consequence during these scenes, the motion comic was the preferable way to engage with the scene, if you ask me. 

Similarly, there’s a point in the book that recommends that you play the Tyger Blue video game demo as a stand-in for a different fight scene, which I imagine may be more satisfying that seeing the fight play out on the text-light pages. I can’t speak from experience on that point though, which I will discuss in more detail in the Stretch Goals and Bonuses section below. 

Overall, I’d say that Tyger Blue is an ambitious project with an interesting premise, great artwork, and unique concepts, particularly in trying to weave technology into the story itself with the motion comic and game demo. The story itself, however, didn’t feel like much more than a hollow void that the artwork was left to fill in. I will likely not find a reason to re-read Tyger Blue, but I might find an excuse to look at the artwork again. 

Grade: C+

I don’t think he’s gonna make it, Blue

Communication and Fulfillment

Once I backed the campaign early in 2022, the Tyger Blue team at Retro Graphic Books (RGB) communicated at least once per month on the status of the project, which is what I would consider to be an acceptable frequency. These updates came both via email and the Indiegogo page itself.

While the campaign promised to fulfill in May, I got my items in late June. That makes it technically late, but I’m not going to be too much of a stickler over a single month. All backers received a digital copy in March, so everyone had a chance to at least read the book well in advance of the due date.

Defense, you dolts!

This is where it gets a little weird. As part of my backer tier, I expected to receive a Tyger Blue action figure, which did not ship with my package in June. A few days later in early July, the RGB team sent out an email explaining that the figures were “almost ready and will be sent off to those who purchased a bundle soon.” That was the last official word on the figures, whether by email or on the Indiegogo campaign page. According to an earlier update, the figures were “done” in mid June, and just needed to be packed up and sent. They finally arrived at the end of August, which made them a few months late, and I never felt comfortable about what the holdup was.

Having run into these concerns, I reached out to the Tyger Blue team on multiple occasions to get a clarification, both via email and directly through the Indiegogo page. I patiently waited for answers, and I regrettably did not receive any. Yes, the book was on time and the pre-fulfillment communication was good, but comms went silent once the campaign closed, and the person-to-person customer service seemed to fall by the wayside, too. 

A strong tee-up but no follow through? Bad Tyger.

Grade: C

Blue is able to brush off this “Ides of March” stabbing frenzy, but Grey got taken down by a few bullets… because comics.

Packaging and Shipping

I did not receive a tracking number when it shipped, but my copy of Tyger Blue arrived in late June, along with most – but not all – of the promised bonus items (action figure). I also backed at the “16-bit Secret Tier Variant Bundle” level, which (among other things) was promised a download code/link for the video game demo to be included with the package, but it was instead delivered via email a few days later. I was also expecting to receive the Tyger Blue action figure, too and I detailed the situation on that in the Communication and Fulfillment section above.

The comic itself arrived with a bend along the spine, though that bend happily has straightened out and is barely noticeable now. The pack-in, double-sided poster, on the other hand, was not so lucky. It was also bent at the corner and rolled so tightly that there are waves in it when you roll it out. That’s not much of a sticking point for me as I have almost zero use for posters (I just don’t have any place to put them, after all), but it’s still a burn. 

A bent book, bent poster, no tracking number, and me left wondering when I would receive my action figure? Bad Tyger. 

Grade: D+

It’s hard to remember by the end that the book actually takes place in mob-era Chicago

Stretch Goals and Bonuses

I’ve already mentioned above my issues surrounding the slightly damaged but admittedly cool looking double-sided poster and the late-arriving action figure, so I won’t belabor those points here. I wish that I could say that it gets better from here, but it doesn’t. 

People who know me really well probably know that I am a huge SEGA Genesis fan. Not only is it my favorite gaming console of all time, but I have nearly – if not more than – a hundred SEGA Genesis games perched on my shelf. When I saw that the “16-bit Secret Tier Variant Bundle” came with a replica Genesis cartridge and a “SEGA Genesis style clamshell” case, I thought that it would be a neat bonus that would look great on that shelf. In fact, that is the very reason why I decided to throw down more cash than usual for what I consider to be a premium tier. 

Despite my excitement, I was very disappointed to see what I actually received in the mail. The “SEGA Genesis style clamshell” case is actually a knockoff case sold by Stone Age Gamer, which is made from a cheap, soft plastic, and it doesn’t match the dimensions of a genuine SEGA Genesis clamshell case, either. That means that it does not look good on my game shelf, but it gets worse. For a brief moment, I thought that I could buy a more authentic reproduction case (which are readily available from multiple sellers online) and slide the artwork in, and then and all would be well. Unfortunately, despite the rear artwork being sized for a legit Genesis case, the front artwork is oversized to fit in the larger Stone Age Gamer case. This means that I can’t put it in a real case, and the back of it looks bad in the cheap case it came with. Lose/lose. Check out the video below to see what I mean.

I am perfectly willing to accept that my being a SEGA Genesis super fan is causing me to have nitpicky standards, but it doesn’t end there. The case also came with a reproduction SEGA Genesis cartridge inside with a sticker/label on it. The sticker on the cartridge itself was neither sized nor cut properly, which makes it look to me as though not much effort was put into getting it right. As it is, it’s a little too big, so I can probably trim the overlapping edges off with a blade and it will probably look better. What cannot be overlooked, however, is that the sticker was carelessly applied, and there is a giant wrinkle across the front of the label. Instead of peeling it off, printing another one and making effort to get it right, someone instead put the sticker on it poorly and thought “Eh, this is fine.” It’s not. To me, this is the equivalent to seeing a torn comic cover and deliberately choosing to ignore it. It should never have been sent out looking like that, and frankly, I’d be embarrassed to ship it to a backer in that state. 

Now we can talk about the Tyger Blue game demo, or at least I would like to talk about it, but I can’t, since my game won’t launch. In all fairness, this is almost certainly because the only computers that I have in my house are Macs and the game is probably designed for a Windows-based PC system, but the Tyger Blue campaign itself page didn’t specify that. Dopey me. 

This is what the game demo would have looked like had I gotten it to work

It’s not all bad news, though. There’s the motion comic sequence on YouTube, which is an interesting touch. There’s also some double-sided trading cards that look cool, and a couple of stickers including a requisite Tyger Blue chibi by 6am Comics. The cards and stickers made the journey through the mail unscathed, so there’s that. 

Despite arriving later than the rest of the tchotchkes, the action figure itself arrived in great shape. The bubble and card were nearly flawless, and I was happy to see that it came with not just one, but three “crack rock” accessories, as well as a stand to keep it upright. The figure itself is pretty basic and is clearly 3D printed, but it still looks neat. There’s a couple of rough edges and a bit of detail on the face would have been optimal, but I still think it’s pretty cool. I personally don’t prefer figures packed onto cardboard backings because I can’t really open it up for display without destroying the packaging, though I knew this would be the case before I backed the campaign, so that is hardly a complaint in this case. 

It’s really a mixed bag on the bonuses side of things. On one side – an unplayable game demo, a SEGA Genesis case that doesn’t look like a SEGA Genesis case, a cartridge deliberately shipped with a visible flaw, a warped poster and a tardy, but neat action figure, versus a couple of cool stickers and several double-sided trading cards? It’s also important to remember that the whole package plus the comic was priced at $50 (plus $10 for shipping). This is admittedly a good deal for a crowdfunding effort, but my subjective disappointment with the Genesis cartridge and case undoubtedly weighs down my personal grade here. 

Grade: D+

Yep. It felt like that.

Conclusion

Of course the big question is: “Will I back again?”  I can’t imagine that I will be backing again, at least not any time soon. If I hear really good things on the story side of the follow-up Tyger Blue books, then I might consider trying to jump back in down the line. However, I think I’ll stick to a “book only” tier if that ever happens. As a matter of fact, this experience has put me off on backing any campaigns based on the extra swag they offer, and I’m certainly less likely to drop large amounts of money for premium perk levels in the future, too. 

This review took a bit longer to deliver as I wanted to give RGB a chance to both deliver my action figure and respond to my messages, the former of which eventually happened. Honestly, I also felt so emotionally burned at the state of my Genesis case and cartridge and the lack of communication on the figure that I had to give myself a bit of time to decompress (a bit over two months, it seems) so that I could read the book and give it a fair shake. After all is said and done, the book is merely okay, saved only by killer artwork and solid page layouts.

I was really hyped for Tyger Blue. Not only did the book look great on the campaign page, but it was a rare moment where my love of comics and video games intersected in such a personally nostalgic way. To quote Sally from It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, “What a fool I was!” I am probably weighing the bonus items too heavily in my personal calculus here, but they really were the reason why I finally broke down and backed the campaign. Regardless, I probably will not read the book again, my ugly duckling “Genesis case” will undoubtedly languish in a drawer, and I’ve given up on trying to get the game demo to work at this point. In all fairness, it came with a lot of swag for a $50 (plus $10 shipping) buy-in, but for me, it was a question of quality and attention to detail over quantity that made Tyger Blue such a bummer.

Now it’s time to put this review to bed and give my “Tyger Blueballs” a chance to recover.

Overall Grade: C (not an average)

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