Magen Cubed is a novelist and comics critic. Her superhero/SFF series THE CRASHERS is coming soon from Booktrope.
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8House #3 by Image Comics is a fascinating read and our Magen Cubed is here with an equally fascinating review.
As a visual medium, comic books have a unique potential for innovative storytelling. This gives writers and artists freedom to play with narrative in interesting, thought-provoking ways that often just aren’t possible in other mediums. Creators are able to achieve this by breaking down the comic book itself – a sequence of images on a physical page, contextualized by the relationship between image and text – and using elements which readers so often take for granted to drive the story. In a time when comics journalism focuses heavily on writing and scripted narrative, sometimes it’s good to slow down, appreciate the work of artists, and discuss some of the more visually inventive comics coming out today.
8House #3 is published by Image Comics from writer Brandon Graham and artist Xurxo G. Penalta. It’s a series that has garnered ample praise for its haunting sci-fi/fantasy world-building, beautiful artwork, and genderqueer protagonists. The third issue in the series shifts away from Lady Kinga and Arclight of the Blood House to focus on Kiem, a soldier from the Kingdom of Stone whose squad astral projects into mech suits piloted by dead twin siblings.
Graham’s grimly scripted vision of warfare is painstakingly realized by Penalta. Exquisitely detailed two-page spreads depict vast deserts and hazy skies, where the horizon is broken up by the complex, intricately designed architecture of Kiem’s home city of Eurthum. Penalta’s meticulous attention to detail and page design evokes the work of Jean Giraud, while still delivering a visually unique and compelling story of Kiem’s metaphysical travels through Eurthum, alien warzones, and beyond.
8House #3‘s most impressive set piece is the interstellar mech battle against the Blood House’s parasitic creature army. This sweeping sequence takes place upside-down to the reader as the mechs traverse jagged, hostile alien topography to fend off invading forces. The effect is at first disorienting as the reader follows Kiem’s narrative captions, conflicting with the inverted composition of the pages themselves before the reader’s brain catches up with the eye. Penalta’s depiction of the off-world battle is every bit as complex and elegant as the rest of the issue, but the decision to upend the entire sequence changes the reading experience entirely.
Unlike the rest of the issue – which is read from left-to-right and top-to-bottom – as the reader scans the page for text, the book must then be turned over. Now these pages must be read right-to-left and bottom-to-top to make sense of their new sequential order. It changes not only the reader’s perspective of the entire battle, but it also involves the reader in its telling. The physical action of reading the scene then turning the entire book over to read again in a new way acknowledges the comic itself as a material object. You are reading a comic book that knows it’s a comic book, and that realization is fascinating as the story progresses.
Traditional design convention allows the reader to passively read the narrative as presented, their disbelief suspended as they are invited to immerse themselves in the action on the page. Graham and Penalta’s decision to invert the battle sequence makes the reader aware of the comic, its pages, and its physical components. The reader is then made to confront their relationship with the comic as an object but also a vehicle of storytelling, making them responsible for discovering the scene rather than having it fed to them manually. The resulting effect is highly engaging. It also assumes a level of audience sophistication that many more traditional uses of graphic narrative often don’t, likely due to scheduling constraints or the need for visual economy. This acknowledgment of comic-as-material makes the reading experience more involved, and, at least in my case, far more memorable.
8House’s inherently slower pace and sprawling sense of world-building allows for such investigative approaches to narrative. It pays off for the reader in both of content and engagement, and makes for a smart, enjoyable read. Overall, 8House #3 is a thoughtfully composed book in every aspect of its production, and an example of fascinating narrative conventions used to their full potential.
Magen Cubed is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow her on Twitter: @MagenCubed
A thoughtfully composed book in every aspect of its production