Fearscape #1 is a comic book that is heavily influenced by many literary tropes of classic literature, and it knows it. Wearing, no doubt, it’s author’s own influences openly and with a knowing nod to the readership, this new fantasy series from Vault Comics promised at least one of two things. One, it won’t talk down to it’s readership – and I think there is a high expectation by writer, Ryan O’Sullivan (Void Trip), to avoid this – and secondly, it expects it’s readers to keep up!
With more obvious references to literary giants such as Petrarch, Chekhov and Campbell, there are more subtle structural tropes to this developing story that offer one the insight into the writer’s mind and education. There is the spirit guide that lures our would-be hero into the Fearscape, where our worst nightmares become a reality, that immediately reminded me of Dante’s trip into Hell, Purgatory and finally Heaven, courtesy of his own guides, Virgil and then Beatrice. There is the confident opening page directly addressing the reader and offering that the narrator of this book is no mediocre talent, but a scribe for the ages who will not be caged by the convention of the form, whether that be comics or what is deemed more ‘literary’. Its all very meta-textual in places, and I like it.
When we do meet our ‘hero’, on page 2, he is far from the confident writer we meet only through dialogue on page 1. Rather, he seems washed out and living off the favours of others. He is aware of his own prestigious talent, even if the rest of us aren’t. Including his agent. And yet in the golden muse, who summons him into this otherworld of danger, we are to suspend our belief and trust in her judgement: that he is this generation’s greatest storyteller. He just doesn’t know it yet.
Andrea Mutti’s light, delicate artwork, wonderfully complimented by colourist Vladimir Popov, makes the book feel like a treasured storybook, with pages that look painted in watercolours rather than digitally enhanced. It’s a look that elevates this to a level that maybe Vault Comics have yet to achieve, but clearly are well on their way to achieving, if the is the standard of their books.
O’Sullivan is a relatively new writer, but this is the work of a well-seasoned, and well-read, writer too. This could well be his best work yet, given the depth of influences behind him. We are all influenced by our experiences, educational or otherwise, and O’Sullivan seems to be channeling the spirit of Neil Gaiman in this book.
But, dear reader, don’t be fooled into thinking you need an English Literature degree to enjoy this. You don’t. It’s a great first chapter and introduces us to the main players while, as our hero, Henry Henry, points out, tantalisingly fails to introduce us to the villain of the piece. On another level, I think O’Sullivan is playing with us, too. Claiming that things shown are not important is something I won’t be falling for. Everything in fiction happens for a reason, and while there’s no Chekov’s gun yet, there is a letter opener. Could this be Chekov’s letter opener, to be used later on when we’ve all forgotten about it? Or, am I reading too much into this book? Time will tell, and I look forward to reading this as a floppy copy when it’s released by Vault Comics this September.
It’s one part Dante, another part Gaiman and one last part Joseph Campbell. A fantasy story with a high pedigree, and all the makings of a thrilling yarn to boot. Worth asking your comic book store about.
Fearscape #1 is released on September 26, 2018 by Vault Comics and is currently available for pre-order with final orders due on August 10th.