October 22, 2014

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Kingdom/Order Part 1

Written and Illustrated by Reid Psaltis
Print Edition Self-Published
Digital Edition Published by Alternative Comics
Webcomic Edition via Study Group

An ordinary guy wearing an ordinary tie looks to have an ordinary life. But as soon becomes clear, he's got a strange affiliation with the birds and beasts that finds him driving away from the city and into the woods in the first part of an intriguing, richly illustrated story from Reid Psaltis.

The first thing that really stands out to you when paging through Kingdom/Order is the artwork. Not every creator is able to switch easily between wooded glens and urban banality, but Psaltis is able to make it work. Opening in the forest, with the sounds of creatures dominating the landscape, we aren't quite sure what's going on, other than there will be a focus on the idea of sound and how the main character, an everyman wouldn't be recognizable in a police lineup, reacts to them.

This brings me to the second clever thing about Kingdom/Order, namely the fact that each animal is given their own distinctive image for speaking, none of which are at all decipherable by the reader. We see that animals are going to be important, but they aren't--at least not in this stage--going to be speaking to us or understandable. Later, we come to realize we aren't going to get human speech, either, and that the man, instead of focusing on the humans around him, prefers to listen to what the animals are saying, from pigeons to rats to toads. Hell, even leaves themselves start to "talk" to the man, assuming we're in his point of view. (That's not 100% explicit, but I believe that to be true.)

It makes for a strange atmosphere, and when combined with the heavy use of black ink and panels within panels, there's a definite sense of the unreal, even though just about everything we see (save an expanding hole underneath the subway) is perfect normal. A good example is roughly to the right of this paragraph, where we see an overarching page scene (the subway), with three smaller panels depicting the main action (the man discovering the hole and getting pulled in).

I really like how this effect allows Psaltis to set the scene with a larger image and still provide extra scenes. He sometimes does this over half or even a third of a page, too, which again makes the whole story feel like it has extra depth.

Psaltis' art style is extremely realistic throughout, with most objects receiving quite a bit of detail, like the contours of a pigeon's feathers or the tiles on the wall of the subway station. When not fully fleshed out, they're usually silhouetted in black, but it's still clear what the animal or object is supposed to be. What I found interesting was that most of the human world objects are given more white space and light, while anything to do with the animals, particularly in the woods, is shown mostly in black, with white being used to create details and reverse shading. It's a great effect, and again gives this comic a lot to recommend to a reader who can appreciate the art and craft that went into its design.

Most of this review has focused on the artistic side of things, because it's a bit hard at this point to know the overall story, since this is just the first part (of three planned sections). We understand that the man has a connection to animals, but what he'll do next is as much a mystery to him as it is to us by the end of this section. For some, that may be a bit unsatisfying, as there really isn't any resolution here; Psaltis is just stopping things at a breaking point, but it's not a dramatic one or a revelation. If that tends to bother you, or you like to read complete stories, it may be better to wait for more of the story to be completed. Right now, Part 2 is going live on Study Group, so it looks on pace to finish, always a good thing (and not to be taken lightly, given how many minis I've read where I never got to see the end).

I immediately got behind this one because of the visuals, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. This one is definitely on the strange/mystical side, and anyone who enjoys comics of that type definitely need to check it out.

You can get it digitally from Alternative here.
Here's the link to Part 1 on Study Group
And here's Reid's website