Boom! Studios is currently invested in sports centric comics. They have a number of titles covering a wide range of fringe sports. Each title has a different creative team, obviously passionate about the sport featured in their narratives, and each title appeals to a slightly different audience: some younger readers, some teens, some more mature wrestling fans. The one aspect that links all of them, however, is the emphasis on the characters; these are comics about personal experiences and surviving in the world, the sport is a way of relaying the character’s struggles via metaphor, allegory or a bit of both.
That’s not to say the depicted sport is insubstantial, quite the contrary. The chosen sport is representative of the greater narrative. Each sport has been chosen as it best defines the characters within the story, or perhaps it’s the other way around; the sport dictates the types of characters that fuel the narrative. Either way, the sport is integral to the characters. Think of Rocky, the narrative would have been quite different if the film was about Lacrosse.
In both Dodge City and Fence, the central characters are underdogs who have something to prove through their chosen sports and as such are determined, strong willed characters. How the creators deal with this is surprisingly similar despite the very different sports; one being a team game with a lot of movement and the other involving individuals in a super-fast technical sport.
To highlight the similarities between the two I’ve chosen to compare an action sequence from last month’s Dodge City (issue 4 is out this week) and another from last week’s Fence #7.
Side by side you can instantly see that they have been drawn with different styles but also that these two scenes look very similar. The choices that the artists have made in layout have the same function. The panels are all irregular shapes drawing your eye in different directions across the pages. Dodge City has a more erratic layout representing the more chaotic sport depicted inside the panels. Fence uses the shape of the panels as well as the fencing swords to lead the reader from one point to another. In other examples, Dodge City does something similar with the ball and movement lines.
Each layout reflects the style of the sport. Fence is ordered, subtler, and has a finesse about it. Despite being a very fast sport, fencing has a pin point precision to it which is illustrated here. Dodgeball has more players, more to follow across the playing field and Cara McGee fills the panels deliberately making part of the game hard to follow. However, these two pages serve the same function within their respective comics. These two action packed pages are not actually about the sports they depict but about the character featured in them.
Each page is about one specific character within the comic. In Dodge City it is Elsie and her determination to stay in the completion. The entire page is centred around her and her reactions to the game. The drama is created by Elsie acting within each panel. She is shown to be impatient and angry; the colouring on her face in panel two and then the lettering on panel three where Elsie’s “Raarh!” exclamation is larger than the “wait for…!” behind her. It’s as if she is drowning out the other players, lost in the moment.
Of course this nearly backfires towards the end of the page where the panel opens up with a long shot passed Elsie to a full figure of an opposing team member and the blurred ball between them. The shape of the ball and the directional lines indicate how fast the ball is travelling and it all seems over for Elsie.
One of the things that Cara McGee and Brittany Peer do to focus the reader on Elsie is to make her the most prominent figure in most of the panels and push the other characters into the background. The panels also have no background detail, just vivid colours that reflect the thought process of Elsie: a strong green when she is determined in the first, third and seventh panels but the colour changes when she is unsure of what to do or she is in danger of being knocked out.
Johanna The Mad and Joana Lafuente do something very similar in Fence however their approach is starker, cleaner, to better represent the refined image of the sport. On this page Nicholas is as determined to beat his opponent but this determination is shown in the captions. Nicholas is almost distracted by his obsession to beat Seji but somehow his natural instinct takes over.
Johanna The Mad keeps Nicholas the central figure in each panel, in the same way McGee did in Dodge City, but very little emotion is given away by the character visually. It’s like a stoic determination, straight faced and poised.
For an exterior perspective Nicholas is simply going through the motions of Fencing. However, the final panel of the page belies this and gives the reader an insight into Nicholas’ emotional state. By changing the background colour from off white to crimson the panel radiates a much stronger emotional hit. The entire panel is an exclamation mark for the page, with the captions and movements all leading to this point. The positioning of Nicholas and his Epee, bent down towards the bottom of the page, emphasises his thought process and draws the reader to the rivalry between Nicholas and Seji. All Nicholas can think about is beating Seji, even during a match with someone else. No matter what, he can make each situation about his obsession with Seji.
These two pages look quite different at a quick glance, Dodge City is colourful and chaotic whereas Fence is orderly and clean but the narrative on each page is the same. Each focuses on a single character and, through the sporting actions depicted, they emphasis the emotional state of that character. The determination and obsession is illustrated in a slightly different way but it is very clear on the page what drives each of them.
Fence #7 Out now
Written by C.S. Pacat
Illustrated by Johanna the Mad
Coloured by Joana Lafuente
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Dodge City #4 Out on 27 June 2018
(images used from issue 3)
Written by Josh Trujillo
Illustrated by Cara McGee
Coloured by Brittany Peer
Lettered by Aubrey Aiese
After being shanghaied and forced to work aboard the sail ship Bellwood for two years, sailor Jack decides to take revenge on those who imprisoned him. He starts with Captain Schork and the crew of the Bellwood. After taking the ship he sails it for home to Portland, to find his family and make those responsible for his absence pay.
The remaining prisoners on the ship are offered the chance to join Jack but first they are in for a shock becasue Jack is in fact Molly, a hard working frontiers woman who isn’t afraid of a little violence if it means she gets what she needs.
And so begins Shanghai Red, a new series from Image Comics, released this week.
Issue one of Shanghai Red is set mostly on the ship Bellwood, with a few flashback sequences to establish the central character. It revolves mostly around the night that Jack, aka Molly or Red as she likes to be known, decides that enough is enough and she unleashes a wave of violence on the deck of the ship.
The opening pages are beautifully drawn with an initial sombre mood exploding into a series of violent actions. Joshua Hixson creates an unsafe environment on board the Bellwood by casting a large amount of the panels in shadow and using a number of long, often tilted angled, viewpoints. This gives the reader the impression of a ship in motion but also the sense that something is not quite right. This is then escalated when Red begins her series of attacks.
Hixson brings his colour work into play and coats the grey/blue lighting of the ship with vivid red for the flowing blood and vibrant yellows for the flames Red unleashes. This gives the opening a really strong visual impact that draws you into the comic immediately. It gives the reader a sense of tone for the following narrative as well as illustrating the central character’s determination and cruel intents.
The fine line work, vast backgrounds and coloured caption balloons all work together to give the comic a cohesion that makes it effortless to read. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering works in much the same way as Hixson’s colouring does. It differentiates the characters and their moods either through the colouring of the word balloons or the separation of the characters’ speech.
For example, on a number of occasions the speech is split into two speech balloons although it could all have been placed into one. This emphasises the different parts of the speech so that the reader is drawn to a specific word or phrase giving it more weight. So when Red says “It’s not you. I don’t deserve it. I’m damned.” There is a break before ‘I’m damned’ which gives her final words emphasis, they are not just a throwaway comment to distance herself from Boston. They relate to something more, something which obviously plays on Red’s mind.
Subtleties like this are spread throughout Shanghai Red and reward the reader for paying attention. They are even more important early on because initially Red is not a likable character, her actions are seemingly cruel and heartless but there is something in the way that she is portrayed that makes the you want to find out why she is the way she is. Some of this information is slowly revealed over the course of the comic as Christopher Sebela explores Red’s character via interactions with her new crew.
After the initial gut punch, the narrative becomes a sterling character piece mixed with narrative history and allegorical imagery. Sebela allows two narratives to unfold, each giving a different insight into the central character. The first is Red’s own story as she tells it: this is biased and for a large part emotionless because this is how she has learnt to survive. The second is through Red’s waking dreams: these are fuelled by pure emotion and are nightmarish in nature. Together they build a magnificent central character and sets up the story for future issues.
This comic works as a first chapter in a story by introducing the central character and the themes which surround her life. It also works as self-contained story as it contains everything you need to know to understand the events on board the Bellwood.
Shanghai Red is an outstanding first issue. It draws you in over the first few pages and then focuses the narrative to create interest and intrigue. The artwork fits the tone and setting of the story and gives the entire comic an eerie claustrophobic feel; a visual representation of Red’s emotional state having being trapped on the ship for so long. It is an emotional story infused with pain and suffering but there is a glimmer of hope threaded throughout which gives the reader a reason to continue to read: the relationship between Red and Boston represents that hope.
Full of amazing character work, a strong narrative and eye catching artwork, Shanghai Red is a must read.
Shanghai Red #1
Published by Image Comics
Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Joshua Hixson
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
There were some comics out this week. I know, came as a surprise to me. I’ve been so wrapped up in the Doctor Who Twitch marathon that I forgot everything else that might be happening. Although I did manage to catch the trailer for Bumblebee and I must admit, it looks exactly like the kind of Transformer film I wanted. It all looks very Generation 1 and Starscream is my favourite Decepticon so the lack of Michael Bay may prove to be the franchise’s saving grace.
First up, the final issue of Shipwreck from Aftershock was out this week. The first issue came out sometime in 2016, so it has been a long time coming. However, this series has been excellent so far and I can’t wait to actually read the final issue. From a quick flick through I can tell it’s full of action, suspense, shock and heartbreak. The artwork by Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur jumps out of the page thanks to the heavy line work and bold use of vast, black shadows. The colour work by Mark Englert is equally as bold; he is not afraid to use vibrant colours to the excess to create an overpowering mood for each set piece.
As to Warren Ellis’ script, I won’t know how well the story comes together until I’ve read it in it's entirety but Ellis barely steers me wrong, hence I’ve happily waited, patiently, for the series conclusion.
Next we have Dazzler: One Shot from Marvel. Written by Magdalene Visaggio and illustrated by Laura Braga, this one shot is a re-introduction to the mutant character. The story itself is nothing out of the ordinary; it’s not exceptional in any way however it is very well paced and mixes humour with a very modern commentary on social bullying. The basic narrative may seem straight forward and as such the message behind it is very clear: Visaggio is shining a light on a certain element of toxic fandom that circulates the comic book (and it would seem almost any) fan base. The conflict between the few outspoken mutants and their hatred of the Inhumans reflects perfectly the self-righteous, angry fan who attacks other fans just because they have a different view point. Dazzler is used as a uniting force against such hatred and is a shining light for inclusivity and diversity.
I have always been a fan of Dazzler, even though she has never really been a major player in the comics, and it’s pleasing to see her written in such a positive way. One the one hand I would like to have seen a much grander story line for this one shot but on the other, I love the boldness and simplicity of the message this comic is sending out.
It looks like I may be picking up Astonishing X-Men #14 which is where Dazzler is set to return.
Boom! Studios have released a Planet of the Apes Colouring Book. I’m not sure what to do with that information. I have seen the book and there is some very fine art work in there, what with it being a collection of black and white pages from the history of Planet of the Apes comics. If you have to own every bit of merchandise they release or you really want to colour in an angry, netted Taylor then I guess this is just the book for you. I tried a spot of digital colouring but I guess I should leave it to those who know what they are doing...
Finally this week, Doctor Who, and not the classic series current showing on Twitch (Have I mentioned the marathon currently taking place? Trust me, it’s the place to be for any Whovian). Titan Comics have reached the Seventh Doctor in their line of Who related comics. This means only 1, 2, 5, and 6 to go. I’m hanging on for 5, as he’s my favourite incantation so far but I digress.
Operation Volcano part 1 is written by Andrew Cartmel and drawn by Christopher Jones. The story sees the Doctor travel to Australia in the 60’s to the site of a crashed space ship. The comic relies heavily on characters from the extended Doctor Who universe with the ‘Counter Measures’ group and Group Captain Gilmore playing pivotal roles. I’m not overly familiar with this lot but that doesn’t affect the story telling one bit. It’s a mysterious, fast paced adventure with a lot going on: a good representation of a 7th Doctor adventure. My only gripe with this issue is that the Doctor and Ace are not in it enough, especially as this is an oversized first issue. However, Cartmel does capture the character’s voices very well even if they don’t play a big enough part.
I think this title will appeal to more ardent fans of the Doctor Who franchise, especially those who follow the audio adventures, but there is an overwhelming love for Sylvester McCoy's interpretation of the character which makes this a joy, if somewhat confusing, read.
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.