Comics: The Carnival's Promising APE Debut

I found two interesting new comics in single issues at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. One’s a full-color urban dark fantasy, and the other’s a black-and-white urban noir.  Come back in a week for the magical fantasy; today we’re talking about Charles Yoakum’s debut issue of The Carnival.

This first issue  (available from the artist) is a self-contained story that demonstrates a love of hardboiled detective fiction.  Lookit Yoakum’s first page, gangked from his blog and reproduced at right. (The published page is slightly different, with a different but similar cityscape in panel three, and no grays on panel two.)  There are three nice textures at work:  First we’re introduced to our hero in the the city, nicely moody.  That silent second panel is clearly a flashback or an image in the narrator’s mind, thanks to the white background and the sudden presence of a pretty corpse.  Then an overhead shot as we “pull back” for the title and credit.  It’s a very smooth beginning.

He I like Yoakum’s linework and compositions, though his finishes perplex me.  Sometimes he’s heavy on the shading we see in that first panel, other times pages are all thin linework, awaiting that texture, as though he were drawing for a later-stage colorist.  Sometimes he’s got the stark flashbulb hyperstyling of Frank Miller’s Sin City, and other times the art is more complete and conventional.  It’s all good, but the mix isn’t consistent.  It appears that it took a few years to produce the art on this issue, and perhaps that helps explain the stylistic variances across pages and sequences. Fortunately, Yoakum remains an able storyteller throughout.

The writing’s strengths include a nice sense of pacing and a fine restraint with the first-person narration, which is overdone in that stylized noir way, without going too far. Clunky in a place or two, but also some lines that nail that classic hardboiled ennui. On the negative side, the plot doesn’t hold together in places, and you wish a good editor had taken Yoakum through one more draft.  Our down-on-his-luck detective stumbles across a damsel in distress; he feels typical, and she feels underdeveloped. The hero, Jose Santiago, seems to develop an emotional attachment to the dame without ever having a real conversation with her, and when she dies in his arms, her last words are, “It’s better this way.”  Huh?

But where the story’s logic gaps or its beats seem a little too familiar, it combines with the setting–one sleepless night in a nameless city–to feel like a fast-moving, overheated dream. Overall, the issue is an able experiment, if a little too dependent on the cliches of its genre.

Yoakam’s art and writing show promise that needs a little time to grow, and so does his setting.  This debut story does not make use of Yoakum’s idea that we’re in a near future world, but the issue’s text piece suggests he has ideas to explore there.  I hope so–the only point of repeatedly telling us this is “a world a few days from our own” is to highlight the reasons it’s not exactly the world we live in now.

This first issue feels like an experiment.  Page by page, you can see Yoakum playing with his influences and trying out new things.  Check out this three-panel excerpt.  I really like the way he handles that panel at the lower left, the high-tension action moment when our narrator is focused on the imminent danger–the gun.  That’s in sharp, polished detail while the rest of the panel is sketchy.  It’s a great way to put us into the character’s head and convey feeling with the visual.

It would appear his second issue is under way, with a great noir title (“One Last Kiss Before I Go”), and I’m hoping for a much tighter script and a more unified approach to the art.  I’m definitely on board for that second issue.  And as a side note, Yoakum’s blog, inkdestroyedmybrush.blogspot.com, is an entertaining read in its own right.  Check it out, and pick up a copy of the book.