Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fantasy Minis: Gordon Harris, Evan Palmer

Let's take a look at some minis steeped in fantasy tropes:

Ainulindale, by Evan Palmer. This is an adaptation of the first part of J.R.R. Tolkein's The Silmarillion, which is Tolkein's lyrical creation myth story that begins with the god-figure Illuvatar and his creations the Ainur. One of the difficulties with The Silmarillion, and with this chapter in particular, is that it lacks the kind of world-building detail found in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There are also no characters with which we can learn more about what's going on slowly. Instead, Tolkein dumps a lot of abstract myth-making on the reader, making it a bit of a slog--especially since this material was released posthumously by his son Christopher and much of which was not entirely finished. Evan Palmer cleverly stepped in and turned the abstract into beautiful sequential images that trimmed as much of the text as possible and instead used pictures to explain the rising and falling musical themes of Illuvitar and his creations ("the offspring of his thought"). Paralleling the story of Lucifer in John Milton's Paradise Lost, there arose one of the Ainur (Melkor) who chose to rebel against his creator. This chapter reveals how Illuvitar sought to try to discipline Melkor at first and attempted to convince him to participate in the themes of creation, but Melkor only sought to destroy everything put in front of him. Palmer's use of color really sells the story, as his blues and deep purples in depicting the Ainur when they're abstract make sense. Later, he uses a lot of silhouettes and simple but colorful character designs for the Ainur when they choose physical form, giving the comic a certain playfulness that the text lacks. About the only negative regarding this adaptation is that it probably needed to be three times as big to cover the full majesty of the story and Palmer's imagery; things feel a bit cramped as they stand. I'd love to see him try to adapt later chapters as well, especially the bits that are actually character-oriented.

The Secret Origin of the Dust Elves #1, by Gordon Harris. This beautifully-printed little mini is a hybrid of comics, prose and illustrated text. Harris is able to make that combination work because of a united aesthetic, with a midnight blue wash and matching decorative patterns that mark each prose page. It's a good strategy because at this stage, Harris is a better illustrator than he is a cartoonist. By that I mean that his panel-to-panel transitions are sometimes a bit stiff and his figures lack general fluidity of motion. Given that the first part of the book is a chase scene, this is a vital aspect of the work that's not quite up to snuff. That said, the illustrated prose is clever, in part because it signals a different kind of storytelling as part of the narrative. The story concerns the titular Dust Elves who are essentially resigning their position, only one of them gets noticed by one of the girls in whose room he sometimes travels. The problem is that she asks the questions "Where do they come from?", which apparently is the one question they cannot abide. So they sit down at a computer to write their "secret origin", which naturally turns out to be a lot of nonsense, before the issue ends. This section of the book is drawn as a comic, only instead of using the warm, handwritten style of lettering, it uses a computerized font to mimic the artificial nature of what they're writing on the computer. The wash here is purple, perhaps to indicate purple prose. It's a highly effective and funny metastory, and one can sense that Harris will continue to make it even sillier as the issues go on.

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