Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Foiled: A Graphically Speaking Review

Words: Jared Gniewek

If you know me (let’s pretend you do) then you know I love fantasy. Not just swords and dragons and all that jazz but thoughtful, strange, and soft hearted pieces come to mind as personal favorites. I find it to be a broad expansive genre and not at all limited by convention. It is so immensely free -- so very capable of pushing boundaries from Magical Realism to Sword and Sorcery, Superheroes to Space Opera it is a huge and multifaceted genre one could easily lose a lifetime in the exploration of.

Jane Yolen has been writing Fantasy books since before I was born. I’ve only read two handfuls of her immense body of work and, to this day, I still shed a tear when I think about the Pit Dragon series. The desperation at the end of Heart’s Blood still ripples through me from across alien worlds. Ten year old Jared cried like a baby. No joke.

Now she’s teamed up with Mike Cavallero (of Act-I-Vate and Savior 28) for Foiled, a new project through First Second Books. What we have here, folks, is Fantasy... of the good and smart kind. Wracked with whimsy, metaphor, and heroism.

It is definitely aimed at the younger crowd and seems as though it is the first part of a greater work though there is little to indicate that more stories with these characters will come. I wish a teaser for a followup could have been inserted. I can understand why they wouldn't but as a standalone it really would have benefited to promises of future stories (even if they never happen). I mean, I loved Remo Williams the Adventure Begins as much as the next guy and even though they never made more of them, I didn’t mind them hinting to the sequels in the credits (same goes for Buckaroo Bonzai). No one complains about undelivered promises from these filmmakers. In a way it overtly hints to a larger world that the text touches on.

The world building is slow and assuredly paced. The pay-off is huge but I think the reader could have used more allusions to the grandness of the ending. I understand the need to create a living breathing “real world” for the characters to exist in. It is considered ver important in the genre to create that framing. But how long did it take for Alice to fall down that hole or Dorothy to get whisked away to Oz? I felt rewarded for having met the main character but how the newfound bond to mysticism affects her is as important as the YA middle school yearnings she feels for the first third of the piece.

The commitment to the details of the sport of fencing is the saving factor in this build up. The “protect your heart” refrain creates a strong central motif to the story. If quickening the pace of the book would cause this crucial piece to fall to the wayside then I wouldn't have responded nearly so well to the piece as a whole.

The artwork, as I've come to expect from Cav, is strong, bold and confident. It is a simpler, line centric approach than I've seen from him in the past but it works well. Every figure is formed and characterized with great compositional strokes that feel at once primitive and somehow regal.

I absolutely loved the color inching its way into the black and grey world of New York City. One can almost see specks of the vivid hues in the beginning as we look into the fencing mask for the first time. And when the intrusion of the magic world occurs it felt truly stunning and transcendent. It is a great device and it works to strong effect. Using Grand Central Station (one of my personal “places of magic” in New York) created for me a sense of nostalgia and love. A perfect metaphor for the journeys of these magical creatures into Aliera's conciousness.

I wasn't fond of Aliera's character coming right out and saying she was colorblind when she sees the color of the other world for the first time. I felt it was a little too direct and the world without color worked better as a metaphor than as a method of characterization.

Overall, it might be a great read for a younger fan of fantasy but I would wait till further pieces are published to dig in. It does feel incomplete and too much like a set-up rather than a complete narrative. I feel that growing with these characters could reap great rewards in the future but I was left feeling as though there should have been more book. This is in spite of the craftsmanship inherent to the work.

Reviewer Jared Gniewek joined Graphic NYC with the site's relaunch in September, 2009. Jared has worked in the music industry as a back line technician, performer, and promoter. He has also been a freelance writer whose work can be seen in the recent re-launch of Tales from the Crypt and heard on The Dark Sense, an audio anthology of the macabre for which he is also the story editor. Jared’s blog, Die By The Pen, outlines his philosophies and personal quest as a writer. His cartooning can be found on his blog Scary-Oke, a monster indy cartoon karaoke game stemming from his own twisted mind