What Did I Learn?
Today’s review is on In Maps & Legends by Michael Jasper and Nikki Smith, issues 1-3. Strange places with lyrical, sing song names. Kait. Jeremy. Whispered songs and odd sounds. Bartamus. Maps. This is how it all begins in the review pdfs I was given access to.
And you know how I don’t like to spoil anything, so I’ll quote from the about page on the website: “Kaitlin Grayson considers herself just an artist until she gets recruited by a strange man named Bartamus, who shows up at her place in the middle of the night and demands she use her skills to save his dying world. Soon Kait gets caught between two worlds, and if Bartamus’ world falls, Earth is next – along with untold other worlds.”
But putting aside the story for a moment, I found the artwork to be pretty striking. It has a fluid quality to everything – the line, the contours and even the shadows, with slightly muted colors and hints of texture. That threw an interesting spin on my read of this comic. It’s a place, primarily. The characters are extensions of the place, the moving elements. As you can see from the self description, the place dominatingly involves the characters. It isn’t a nebulous place; rather it is an unknown with serious consequences. The characters are forced to react to its demands.
The art does more than just support the tone. It embodies it. I had to take a snapshot and look at it black and white. I happened to choose a light-colored section but some sections are predominantly dark; there is good visual variety of lights and darks overall.
As you can see, the character (Kait) is clearly a part of the place. And it’s not the softer colors that creates the effect. It’s everything from choice of viewing angle, the textures, the dark to light transitions – everything is connected to everything else in multiple visual ways. While there are a number of comics where the setting is an important part of the comic, I can think of far more whose backgrounds are really just backdrops. Not that doing such a thing is bad; it’s just nice to see the shoe on the other foot.
And you can see the figures have weight and form, even with some fairly delicate lines. There wass something else about the visuals on the tip of my perception. I wasn’t sure if it was the subtle squash and stretch and the irregular shapes but it got a bit more intense when the colors get stronger hues. And there is where I started to really see how there was never a pure block of color. Everything has some kind of texture which gives it a dream-like feel while still being solidly grounded in imperfect reality. It made me mentally compare it to its polar opposite, a webcomic whose name I don’t recall that is colored using round newspaper style colored dots.
I should also mention there are a number of flashbacks going on in exotic locales, so the dream aspect is played up a bit more in the second and third issues. And by the end of the third issues, Kait seems to know what she needs to do – even if it wasn’t clear to me how she had figured things out. Perhaps that is revealed in later issues as she lets the audience in on her plans.
That’s another interesting thing about this comic. There is action and confrontation but it has rarely been direct. It made the outcomes far more meaningful when the direct opposition actually happened.
It should also be mentioned that this comic is available in a number of formats -the iPad, desktop reader, Kindle, PDF and CBZ. It’s ambitious (and probably a lot of work,) but this ensures the widest audience possible. And as of this writing, issues 4 and 5 are also available.
What Did I Learn?
Each thing we include in our comics is important. The available formats, the kinds of lines, colors, textures, shapes… one quickly realizes that all of these choices are really dials with each dial having a nigh infinite number of settings. There are just so many moving parts that there really can’t be a one size fits all approach to comics. Although, chances are if you are reading this, then you can certainly appreciate something different when you see it. This line of nine books is intended for the audience that liked the Sandman and LOST. In Maps & Legends probably sounds like something you will want to read, doesn’t it?