Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 6: Sean Ford, Amelia Onorato, Andrew Christensen

Burn The Bridges Of Arta, Pt 2, by Amelia Onorato. The cover of the second issue of the series "rhymes" visually with the first. This time, we see the laborer-with-a-secret Orie Foster leaning on a wall with a downcast expression, only we don't get to see his eyes. The protagonist of the series, young Apollonia Ford, appears on the cover of the first issue in precisely the same pose. The first issue followed young Apollonia in her quest to discover what really happened to her sister, who was supposedly on her honeymoon. It's revealed that the powerful architects of the city, as a sort of ritual sacrifice, offer up their own children to bury alive in the cornerstones of all new structures in the beautiful city. Foster did the job with her Apollonia's sister and is constantly haunted by the experience, such that when she follows him home, he obliquely tells her what's going on.

The fantasy elements in this series are light but present nonetheless, especially in terms of the horror of discovering that what seems beautiful and trustworthy is really rotten at the core. Onorato dips a bit into the Dickens well with the colorful neighborhood thieves, but this story is always about two shades darker than one would expect from a fantasy story. The morbid nature of Foster's job, the monstrous hypocrisy of the Architects and the looming nature of Apollonia's future, once revealed, make this an especially grim story. Even in the most Dickensian of scenes, when Apollonia is trying to deal with street urchins, she's rescued temporarily by the neighborhood pervert/pimp. Rather than couching dangers in metaphors, Onorato boldly lays out the bare truth of death and abuse, albeit in a manner that's incredibly restrained. Indeed, her fine line and attractive character design only serve to highlight the feeling of reading a Victorian-era story; the bows in Apollonia's hair, the rosy cheeks of Foster's wife, and most especially the detailed and laborered nature of the buildings are in constant tension with the horror that lies at the heart of the story. Similarly, Onorato mixes moments of humor and kid's-adventure with the truth the audience is now privy to. The class and gender overtones of the story are also unmistakable, but that's been present in all of Onorato's reinterpretation of fantasy tropes. This is a smart, attractively-drawn and simply chilling story.

The Stag #3, by Andrew James Christensen. This simple, understated and highly chilling three issue series concludes with the old man who killed a stag with a disturbingly human face coming face to face with an entire race of these beings. Using a carefully-paced four panel grid on every page, Christensen employs a highly deliberate pace of storytelling to heighten suspense. Making great use of white negative space to portray the desperation of the man's need for food in the midst of winter snows, the use of grey heralds the appearance of menace. Of course, Christensen is careful to show the reader that not all is quite as it seems, and the surprising end of the book highlights this. The use of a model boat as a sort of fantasy escape metaphor only serves to underline the ways in which the man is already psychologically doomed. The economy and overall restraint in the series is a mark of the artist's maturity as a storyteller.

Shadow Hills 2-4, by Sean Ford. This is Ford's follow-up to his Only Skin series, and he hits on a lot of the same beats as the series progresses. There's a weird, menacing presence outside of the town that's affecting the innocent. Someone comes back to town with a great deal of history there in order to settle some kind of family matter. The local police are weird and twitchy. There's a sense that the entire town is hiding some kind of secret. There's a large, sprawling cast which serves to both move plot along as well as provide narrative red herrings. The setting is a small, dusty town in the middle of nowhere. The main difference is that Ford is much more confident and skilled as a draftsman and storyteller this time around.

There are two primary supernatural/paranormal phenomena in the series. One is a young man who showed up and is being hidden by a girl in a barn. He seems to have some kind of connection to the earth that feels like a sort of psychedelic superpower. The second is this black-ink ooze that completely covers several characters. It's terrifying, both to the characters in-story, and as a reader, because that ink is the stuff of storytelling itself and here it acts as a highly visceral object of menace. Ford's line is perceptibly but slightly different on the whole; his line is finer and slightly simpler. The occasional over-drawing found in Only Skin has faded as he's become more comfortable. His pages are better composed and balanced, and still get across that sense of desolation and ennui without having to force details on the reader. Ford still has the ability to wow the reader with big splash pages, like a two-page spread of a huge hole that literally opens up underneath what appears to be one of the main characters of the story. Following the shock of that shot up with a two-page shot of a seemingly-benign forest (always a source of danger in his stories) is an incredible transition point in that issue.All of that builds to the introduction of a character mentioned with some air of menace, and his hulking body matches it. I'll be curious to see if the weirdness in this comic is scientific this time around instead of supernatural, but there's a tightness and snap to this comic that shows how much he's learned from his first foray into this kind of storytelling.

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