Saying that the back up stories in the American Gods: Shadows comic remind us that back up stories in comics can play a key role is a strange claim to make, because the back up stories in question are actually an original part of the prose structure of Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods, upon which both the current Starz TV show and the Dark Horse comic are based. However, I’ll still make this point further down the line, as we discuss this comic.
American Gods: Shadows #4 arrived this week from Dark Horse Comics, and as adapted by P. Craig Russell, drawn by Scott Hampton, and lettered by hand by Rick Parker, the comic so far has been intriguing, and often quite haunting as we explore the world of Gaiman’s novel now brought forth in a new medium.
As we’ve followed the life and times of Shadow Moon, released early from prison upon his wife’s untimely death and swept up into service with an enigmatic employer, Mr. Wednesday, we’ve also gotten back up stories in each issue that introduce us to other god-like beings in their arrival “coming to America” or in their doings across the country. In the first three issues, we were graced with the artwork of P. Craig Russell and Walt Simonson.
In issue #4, we’re joined by Colleen Doran, who presents a ten page story about how the “Piskies”, a variation on “Pixies” came to America via the life story of a woman who operates on the edges of acceptable society but always, somehow lands on her feet. And it is a truly delightful, eventful, and detailed story that really captures the imagination. You feel almost as if you’ve read a novella in the space of those ten pages. This is due largely to Doran’s excellent economy in visual storytelling, fitting in as much atmosphere and humanity as possible in a limited amount of space, and due, as well, to Russell’s careful adaptation of the prose to key elements.
It’s hard to read this comic without noticing just how accomplished that back up story is, and reflecting on the role of back up stories in comics. They are not at all an endangered species, but neither are they included in single issue comics as widely as they once were. And it’s not true that in every case a back up story is so closely related to the events and world of the main narrative as our story is in this case. But it does remind you of possibilities. Comics could make use of the strengths of back up stories more often to introduce new artists, and even new writers, to the world of the comic title, and create avenues for the reader to explore which expand on the main narrative more fully.
If comics are ephemeral, back up stories are treated as even less substantial, but if we recognize the strengths of comics, and treat them as enduring, then we come closer to the potential for back up stories to help expand the accordion-like worlds comics are capable of creating.
As I mentioned in opening, it’s an odd argument to make about a story that already included back up stories in the prose version, so called quite sensibly for back up stories to be included in the comics, but the point still stands that this particular issue of American Gods: Shadows is a sterling example of why the back up story needs more limelight and more strategic storytelling use in comics.
American Gods: Shadows #4 arrived in shops this week on Wednesday, June 14th. American Gods: Shadows #5 arrives on July 12th.
This review was written by Hannah Means-Shannon.