I don’t scour Previews to see how frequently it happens, but if I had to guess, the square-bound 64-page comic is a rarity these days. Complete with ISBN, this is the kind of low-priced release that is targeting the bookstore-driven sales records like New York Times Best Sellers lists with tactics that have worked pretty well in the comics medium. It’s a new way of shaking the current comic-selling paradigm up a bit, which is why it gives me no surprise that the most recent graphic novellas I’ve been aware of have been released through Image Comics. The first was Wild Children, a debut for writer Ales Kot that put him onto the radar of many readers for the first time.
The second is Genesis. Nathan Edmondson, Alison Sampson, Jason Wordie and Jonathan Babcock collaborate to present a meditation on what it means to truly change the world and whether or not such a power should be available to mankind. While I greatly appreciate stories that try to tackle some of the bigger issues of life and humanity like this, Edmondson’s dialog feels stiff and unrealistic at times, with the inner monologue captions frequently serving as unnecessary exposition. Babcock’s lettering is passable but similarly boring; in a comic focusing on some rather grandiose ideas and often literally telling them to the reader, using something that didn’t feel like a stock font would be nice.
I appreciated whoever’s decision it was to color in the word balloons of the supernaturally-inclined characters; I have a feeling that it is a technique that predates The Sandman, yet since I first read Morpheus’s chilling white text dialog from dripping black word balloons, it’s pushed my brain into a slightly different place whenever I see variations in font or balloon color.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some truly beautiful moments in the writing of Genesis, some of which get to the heart of what the graphic novella is all about, but where Genesis really shines is through the combination of Sampson’s art and Wordie’s coloring.
Sampson’s artistic style reminds me very much of Morgan Jeske’s work on Change, albeit a bit cleaner. Her architecture and design background comes through loud and clear on the page where manmade elements are very much things of order, quite possibly built with rulers and French curves, and nature is jagged, sketchy, and messy. I cannot stress enough how excited I am to see elements of design find their way into more and more comics. Whether it’s across the oeuvre of Hickman, in the pages of Hawkeye, or here in Genesis, having an artist with a background in design can lead to pages that pop in a way that few comics really do these days.
While I knew I recognized Jason Wordie’s name, I wasn’t quite sure where from until I looked him up. Seeing two covers of Prophet under his belt made sense, and his color palette choices for Genesis were impressive, giving it a feel almost like that of a watercolor, where the truly vibrant colors only made an appearance at particularly resonant sections of the story. The duo of Wordie and Sampson reminds me much of Jeske and Sloane Leong from Change. It’s a style that veers drastically away from what is popular in the most mainstream comics (with the most recent Animal Man reboot serving as the only Marvel/DC comic I can think of with a similar aesthetic), and I, for one, welcome the diversity.
Reading a comic like Genesis puts me in a very awkward place. I know I’ll come back to this again, maybe a few more times, but I can’t say for certain just how much attention I’ll be paying to the story being written as much as the story being told through the art, colors, and panel layouts. I would recommend it for the growing number of readers who realize just how much art can bring to the story of a comic, but if you’re the type that just reads from bubble to bubble while glancing at the page, it may not be for you. Edmondson tries to tackle some pretty huge ideas here, and while the attempt is admirable, the writing falls a bit short because of it.
Genesis releases on April 16th wherever finer comic books are sold or on April 29th via Amazon.
David Fairbanks is a freelance writer, poet, and artist. You can find him on Twitter at @bairfanx.