Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Black is the Color by Julia Gfrorer Review

A sailor is abandoned at sea, left to die. A mermaid appears and the two share an intense, doomed romance as the sailor’s life dwindles away.

The sailor/mermaid story has been told and retold for centuries but writer/artist Julia Gfrorer gives it a twist by making her characters talk like 21st century people, though the book is set in the 17th century! The mermaids in particular talk like hipster musicians. During a storm, a small group of them gather to watch a ship sink from a distance, talking about the evening’s gig and other mermaids’ beard vanity. Later, a couple of them talk about laying down backing vocals while eating freshly killed lobster.

That approach helps the comic stand out as, without the unexpected modernity of the dialogue, it’d be a duller comic played straight. But, juxtaposed with the strangeness of everyday dialogue being spoken by mythical creatures, is the drama of the story – the real, slow death of the sailor, the cruel romance between him and the mermaid, and the melancholic longing of the sailor’s wife on land, waiting for her husband to return.

It’s an odd mix of tones throughout, switching from the frivolous to the serious, though it’s quite intentional – the shipwreck scene is representative of the book as a whole. Perhaps it’s a choice to make the fantastic seem more real, more accessible to the reader? Maybe it’s to signal that beneath the knowingness of the characters, there’s a belief in the genuine over the jaded, and the struggle between the two? I wasn’t entirely sure either way.

I really liked Gfrorer’s art style: simple black and white pages, sharp, strong inks, and a six-panel grid arrangement. The classic grid style is usually a move to focus the reader on the content of the comic rather than any particular stylistic approach, which certainly works here. Gfrorer also doesn’t rush her story, allowing panels to go by without dialogue, the same image appearing in one panel after another with slight changes, subtly moving things forward. The drawings themselves are very clean and realistic, utilising perspective very ably.

Black is the Color has its moments but in the end it’s an underwhelming comic. It feels a bit too disjointed and unfocused at times, and, while Gfrorer has talent, she doesn’t bring enough originality to the book – the ending especially feels very rote and predictable. It’s entertaining enough but its use of numerous silent panels and it’s brevity at 72 pages is why it’s a quick read rather than because the reader is excited to see how it will end. An average indie comic.

I read a physical copy of the book but it’s available to read for free online here: http://studygroupcomics.com/main/black-is-the-color-by-julia-gfrorer/

Black is the Color

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