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The Poet and the Flea is comic creator G.E Gallas’ first step into the arena of comic book creation. Our Cody Tromler is here to tell out how this first-timer’s maiden voyage went.
The Poet and the Flea started life as a project on Kickstarter, and acts as writer and artist G.E. Gallas’ open love letter to the famous poet William Blake. It is the first of several chapters outlining a particularly difficult time in the poet’s life when he struggles between good and evil, in a much more literal way than most stories incorporate. With star-studded guest appearances, from the archangel Raphael to philosopher Voltaire. The combination of historical and biblical figures and funding the comic through Kickstarter make The Poet and The Flea more than interesting enough for a ComiConverse review!
The Poet and the Flea opens with a poem from William Blake entitled “The Fly” which outlines Blake’s thoughts on what makes one content with life, deciding that thought, or the want of thought, are the primary ingredients for a happy life. Which serves as an important theme to keep in mind as we go deeper into the story. We find out that Blake had seen an angel in his youth and that the eyes of The London Monster are watching him, especially during his sleepless nights when he dreams of his long-passed brother.
Blake is eventually confronted by this monster who reveals himself to be the ghost of a flea (which is much scarier than it sounds), the bringer of the black plague who leaves nothing but corpses in its wake. A living embodiment of man’s evil and selfishness. The Flea explains that a bet between himself and the archangel Raphael took place and the results hinge on whether Blake becomes a corrupt shell of a man. Once the game is revealed both the Flea and Raphael take their best shots at making Blake the man they want him to be. In an attempt to persuade Blake that man is inherently good he raises Voltaire from the dead to speak with the young poet. Though even with our poet meeting his hero, the Flea has yet unseen tricks up his sleeves.
The Poet and the Flea comes across as some very heavy lifting when you examine what it’s about. Topics like Christianity, poetry and the nature of man are rather far away from what a majority of comics are about (a vast majority of recent Big Two titles especially); yet Gallas does a good job of delivering this dense material in a package that anyone can enjoy, even if you are unfamiliar with Blake’s work, like some comic reviewers out there. She accomplishes this through a very impressive pacing strategy: utilizing Blake’s poetry to break up the individual scenes in the book, while simultaneously informing us of what Blake’s views on the world were like. In addition to simply teaching us about William Blake and his poetry, all of the poems chosen seem to tie into the overall point of the comic: what makes a man what he is, and what makes life worth living. Thematic bridges like that are not what you would expect from a rookie author.
It’s also important to note that the various framing devices Gallas uses to give us some information, like Blake’s visit from Raphael as a child or what the London Monster actual is, flow very organically from the goings-on of the story. Important information about the real-life occurrences the comic is referencing are given to us in manageable chunks that interrupt neither the story nor the plot and character development.
However, no comic is without its faults in writing. The Poet and the Flea‘s come from enticing us to care about certain occurrences in the wake of a grander plot. While things such as Blake’s younger brother’s death will no doubt play a part in the story to come it is difficult to become invested in the story of that death when it is happening in the midst of two otherworldly beings fighting over a man’s soul.
Another point where the book stumbles is the art, particularly in the framing of the scenes and the characters themselves. A large majority of this comic involves two people talking to one another: Blake and his wife, Blake and the Flea, Blake and an orphan child. So nailing the scene composition of instances like this is important for getting the audience interested in the art of this book. Unfortunately, Gallas has a tendency to make things overly claustrophobic and zoomed in on the individuals talking. This makes scenes feel uncomfortable even when they aren’t, and can leave us wondering why Blake is seemingly standing just a few inches of his wife at all times. While close-ups on a character’s face and minimal backgrounds during heavy dialogue can be used to great effect (just ask Mike Mignola), doing it too frequently leaves dialogue scenes with an uncomfortable feeling.
In addition, this tightness means that we get up close and personal with the finer details of the character’s faces, which is not the strongest weapon in Gallas’ arsenal just yet. She clearly has a good grasp of where parts and details need to be on a human face yet this understanding doesn’t fully come across in the final product: chins appear weak or not there, the Flea’s teeth lack the intimidation that they are meant to have, and it is difficult to tell the humanoids apart from one another at times.
Gallas does show a mastery of one particularly effective artistic tool though, with the appearance of characters, particularly the Flea, as simple silhouettes. This effect renders the details non existent and creates an amazing sense of drama and tension in scenes and the Flea is infinitely more frightening as a nebulous figure than he is as a speckled man with small teeth. The moments where Gallas’ departs from characters altogether to draw the abstract imagery tied to Blake’s poems also proves that with more practice she will be a force to be reckoned with in the art department.
While The Poet and the Flea‘s subject matter seems tedious and heavy from a distance, when one takes the plunge and examines the book it becomes clear that while Gallas has an intimate knowledge of her subject matter, she does not expect us to. She has created a book that will get the interest not just of Blake fans but of individuals that want to give something new a shot. There are hiccups here and there, but far from the Titanic‘s maiden voyage in terms of quality.
Cody Tomler is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Dashly
The concept is strong and Gallas’ passion for the subject matter is inspiring, yet the art isn’t quite where it needs to be and the moments where the art truly shines are too few and far between.