We were discussing comic books at work and wholeheartedly agreed that the art matters. A lot. A good story with weak art or a confusing layout doesn’t work. The art is such an important half of the book. Do you read comics for just the text bubbles? You read the pictures too, even if it’s not where you focus your attention. A fun example of reading the art is found in Rocket Raccoon (2014) issue #5. This is a story narrated by Groot. Every speech bubble says “I am Groot” and the tale he tells about Rocket is a darn good read.
You expect to find a certain style of art and design when picking up the usual superhero story. This isn’t to say that there can’t be something unusual or interesting, but a bright and sunny Gotham would seem a bit weird. There is also an expected style to images of life in outer space, whether aboard ships or on other planets. Once in awhile, someone takes the usual visual in your mind and blows it out of this world. Here are a few science fiction books that you might want to check out. These are worlds where story and art excel.
Descender: Issues 1-16. Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. Image Comics, 2015-present.
When you think about robots — mining bots, companion bots, medical bots — you probably don’t imagine them as watercolours. You probably wouldn’t think of remote planets, alien races, or the destruction of major human cities in watercolour either. But this is the art of Descender. All of the harsh edges and stark interplanetary environments seem to be softened by brushstrokes, leading the reader to feel a certain empathy for even a mining bot. The story is all there too. Worlds have been destroyed by enormous robotic ships. The economy of many places is now driven, in part, by capturing and scrapping the robbies that were a part of daily lives. There is a familiar Battlestar Galactica feeling to parts of Descender, but the questions raised in both are valid. What does it mean to be alive?
If this is a title you haven’t been reading, the story arc just finishing may not be the best place to jump in. The most recent issues have been a series of ‘Singularities’ covering the backgrounds of the main characters. Two trade paperbacks are available and worth picking up.
The Fourth Planet: Issues 1-3. Fred Kennedy and Miko Maciaszek. Chapterhouse Comics, 2016.
A damaged spaceship full of humans lands in a world with less technology, but not exactly primitive cultures. The Foon witness something falling from the sky and debate whether or not this is Tiff arriving in her chariot to judge them. They head to the landed craft to greet her with warriors. The Yultan, a plant-based species, encounter a human patrol and take one of the mysterious creatures back to their temple for the priests to study. The Fourth Planet is a cauldron of warring species into which the humans have fallen.
This book is quietly rich with cultural depth. World history is gifted to the reader in poetic language, while the action of each encounter moves with violent tones. The story is perfectly balanced throughout by a restrained use of colour. The red spears of the Yultan cut through the dark grey environment. In short, the artwork is amazing.
In our impatient world, it’s a shame that this comic is quarterly. Trust me, the wait is worth it. If you have forgotten plot points, it is a delight to page through the earlier issues and catch up on the subtleties of the world.