August 1, 2017

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #38 (The Deep Volume 1 by Tom Taylor, James Brouwer and Wolfgang Bylsma)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as these, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

Building up an ongoing status quo from scratch can be extraordinarily difficult. With new characters, concepts and plot criteria to introduce in such a short space of time, the pressure mounts. Tom Taylor and James Brouwer shrewdly eschew a detailed backstory and, by showing the world already in action, make it clear that they have an entire ocean of stories that they wish to tell.

The Deep was originally published by Gestalt Publishing in August 2011 as a single graphic novel with the subtitle Here Be Dragons. Following a slew of awards, it was optioned by Technicolour in 2013 and eventually became a hit all-ages Netflix show in 2015. Partnering with BOOM! Studios, Gestalt decided to split the graphic novel into issues and distribute it to the American market, giving a brand new audience the chance to experience it.

The Deep is a series that follows the Nektons, a family of world famous deep-sea explorers that wander the world as the purest of scientists, content only with the retention of knowledge. The two parents, Will and Kaiko, travel the globe for information, all the while trying to teach the moody teenager, Fontaine, and their rambunctious son, Antaeus (Ant) Nekton. This series became famous for its diversity, not just in family composition, but in terms of the interactions between the members of the family.

The family dynamics of this series create the strong foundation that allows this series to be as enjoyable as it is. While not losing any momentum in the overall plot, Taylor weaves in a very personable cast of characters. Each has their own individual cross to bear, such as Ant’s desperation to be taken seriously in a family so much older than him, but the mutual adoration that sits at the heart of each of the relationships makes for extraordinarily compelling fiction.

None of this would be possible without Brouwer’s skilled hand guiding it through. The expressiveness of his characters highlights each character’s age and motivations, with Fontaine’s awkwardness showing her unease in her own skin and Kaiko’s determined stance contrasting with her caring face. Great art is one that you can return to and pick out the storytelling innate to the body language and Brouwer’s has that in spades.

While the kids definitely act and look like kids, which is a phrase that makes me feel too old, Tom Taylor treats them identically to the adults. They have a wisdom beyond their years, making their actions feel deliberate and not the wild flailing that makes some all-ages material unwatchable for an older audience. In a similar vein, there are times when their parent-approved behaviour begins to border on the child endangerment that is so common in cartoons, but the maturity of the characters always manages to bring it right back.

To say that Brouwer’s colours are atmospheric would be an understatement. Underwater scenes are awash with rich, textured blues which sit in opposition to the red auras that emanate from the family’s equipment. They create the sensation that this family is out of their depth, that they could be swallowed any moment by the crushing water that surrounds them.

The engulfing nature of the world as a whole supports the decision to begin the story in medias res. On the very first page of this story, it’s clear that these characters have been functioning at their current level of skill for some time and it subsequently makes it easier to accept why they receive the accolades that they do. It’s refreshing to enter into a new, yet established, world without needing to sit through an obligatory origin story.

Taylor’s strong grasp on the direction of the overall plot likewise applies to his sense of comedy and timing. His propensity for “brick jokes” keeps you on your toes; you never know when a throwaway moment of levity will later turn into an enormous payoff. When it’s possible to see the level of craft in even the finest details, those are the writers that you should be paying attention to.

From the fish training sequence, through the deep dive into the trench and all the way to the final page revelation, this is a world that feels so rich, it feels as though it must already exist. Both Taylor and Brouwer have pulled this family whole cloth from the depths of the ocean and, with the strength of the characters and the novelty of the concepts, it already feels as vibrant as some of the longest running franchises.

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mcdickson101@gmail.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.