Before I begin this week I wanted to say thank you to all of my friends who reached out to me to check on my progress. For those of you who don’t know, two weeks ago I came down with the dreaded Covid. I’m fully vaxxed and have my booster, but I also work in a 500 square foot classroom with students that were not required to mask, test, or distance, and so even my best efforts to avoid Omicron were for naught.
The last two weeks have been hard. A life long allergy sufferer with a history of nasal issues, I spent a week solid coughing, stuffed, and exhausted. Even now, two weeks later, I still wake up with a cough and sore throat and find myself getting winded after long periods of exertion, which is great when you are a well known, high energy High School teacher. I’ve had multiple kids express serious concern about my well being since my return to the classroom, and that’s a bad thing in many ways.
The long and the short: Please make sure you are doing all you can to protect yourself and others. You might think that you are free from responsibility to protect yourself because “If others are worried they can protect themselves.” Sometimes that’s just not an option, or not possible even with the best of precautions, and we all need to help each other get through this. Empathy and love were how I was raised, and they guide me in how I interact with the world. I encourage everyone to speak with their trusted medical officials to make the best call for them and their children, but remember no man is an island, and we are all in this together.
Alright, health check out of the way, I am back this week with some positive hype about a great new book I just checked out, and that I want to encourage all of you to check out as well! This week I’ll be looking at Step by Bloody Step, a masterpiece in visual storytelling that ticks a lot of the boxes for what I look for in not only indie comic innovation, but storytelling in general.
So with no further ado, let’s dive in!
Here’s the blurb:
An armored giant and a helpless child. Together they cross an astonishing world brimming with beasts, bandits, and—deadliest by far—civilizations… If they stop walking, the earth itself forces them onwards. WHY? The child can’t ask. She and her guardian have no language, no memory, nothing—except each other.
Multiple-Eisner nominees SI SPURRIER (X-Men), MATÍAS BERGARA (Coda), and MATHEUS LOPES (Supergirl) present a watershed moment in modern comics: four double-length chapters of a bittersweet fantasy opus, completely text free.
Let’s take a walk.
Now, I don’t normally share other reviewers comments on the books I look at, but I’m going to make a rare exception for this book because, well, you’ll see.
“My new favorite comic. Mysterious, inventive and heartfelt, without ever saying a word.” —JEFF LEMIRE
“A stunning feat… truly unique. Dazzles the eyes and swells the heart.” —SCOTT SNYDER
“I love anything these guys do, but nothing more than this.” —MARK MILLAR
“Gorgeous, heartfelt, surreal… three of my favorite creators.” —RICK REMENDER
“Beautiful story. Reminds us why comics are a visual medium.” —GABRIEL BÁ
“An incredible silent tale.” —FÁBIO MOON
“Haunting, ethereal and above all visually stunning.” —AL EWING
“Entirely without words, this beautiful fantasy will leave you speechless too.” —KIERON GILLEN
So yeah, pretty much every single on of my favourite people working in indie comics right now are praising the heck out of Step By Bloody Step, so of course I had to see what all the hype was about, and I have to say, I was not disappointed.
Long time readers of my columns know that for me, the art is the most important part of a comic. I have read many a book where the story telling is far from impressive, but the art is so fascinating and interesting that it keeps me going on the book long after I should have dropped it.
On the flip side, there have been some books that I really loved, but that switched artists or made choices that I found more of a clash than a compliment, and I dropped those titles in a heartbeat.
Comic book writing should always be a deep collaboration between story teller and artist, and it’s the visuals that should be the thing to keep the story moving forward more than the dialogue. Good writers know this, and they trust their artists to tell the story on the page, only interjecting dialogue and information when it enhances the story and moves it forward in ways that art cannot. Poor writers just want their artist to provide them with talking heads they can attach word balloons to, showing that they are more interested in selling a script to a studio than a compelling comic to the fans.
Step by Bloody Step shows just how important it is to resist that urge. This book could have easily been overwhelmed by narration, dialogue, inner monologue, sound effects, and all manner of other visual noise that would have certainly made the experience of understanding the story easier, but it would also have made it far less rewarding.
Remember the wise words of Alan Moore, that the reader is an important part of the experience of enjoying and understanding the art and story telling of comics. If we are told everything, if we don’t have to figure anything out for ourselves, we are missing out on one of the most important parts of engaging with art in this medium. The reader crafts a world inside their own heads and hearts, and too much narration, too much noise, corrupts that experience and prevents us from truly connecting with the piece in the way we should.
Step by Bloody Step is the story of a child and a giant, but the nature of their relationship is one we have to come to learn over time. Visually the story reminds me of works like the exceptional Canto series, with it’s slightly steampunk-eques aesthetic and pseudo medieval setting, and that’s a good thing.
Si Spurrier is a well known comic voice with an impressive resume, especially at Marvel, but for me I think one of the most important things he did that informed this book was his work on the Judge Dredd series. I know I don’t mention it often, but I am a big fan of Judge Dredd, particularly because I feel it a series that always is at its best when it focuses on the visual aspects of story telling over the narrative. Judge Dredd is a fairly stoic character, cold and not prone to big speeches or grand narratives. The story telling is tight and focused, and the world is allowed to be a character in those stories, not just a setting.
And that aesthetic is on full display here as well. This world feels real, and has elements to it that are allowed to be discovered through actions, not through narrative. We don’t need to be told that something is dangerous or safe, beautiful or terrifying. We can see with our own eyes the reactions of the characters, how they approach this world, and their relationships to each other through their movements and expressions.
All of this, of course, is due to the tremendous artwork of Matias Bergara and Matheus Lopes, two artists whose work I am very familiar with, especially Bergara’s work on titles like Time After Time and his work with Neil Gaiman (another brilliant author who understands the importance of letting the visual show the story). Both artists have come together to create a compelling, beautiful narrative that allows the reader to fully engage in the story in their own way, seeing things, missing things, having to go back and reexamine things. This is the value of a comic book!
I read a lot of comics, (just ask my wife when she looks at the weekly credit card statement), but it is rare that I re-read a comics. Like most of your, one read through, maybe a quick flip back to a single part to make sure I caught something, and then it is bagged, boarded, and sorted. I don’t need to reread because I already know what happened.
But a book like Step By Bloody Step demands a second, even a third read through. You won’t get everything the first time through, and new revelations along the way will force you to go back and look at scenes in a whole new light. This is what good art, good storytelling, good comics in general are all about.
So do yourself a favor and read this book! Reread this book!
Until next time, stay safe and look out for each other. We’re all in this together!