SPX Spotlight 2013: Philippa Rice and Looking Out

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy back in 2009, when I was still regularly writing up the few webcomics I was reading at the time (something I'd like to get back to, when time allows), I found a fun little webcomic that featured the adventures of hand-crafted paper (and other objects) characters called My Cardboard Life.

I loved the fun, biting wit of the mostly one-and-done style gag strips with the two main characters, Colin and Pauline, often engaged in hijinks with each other that had a bit of a Charlie Brown and Lucy vibe. The fact that they and their world are posed objects, not drawn, really made the comic stand out to me, and I've been a fan of Philippa Rice ever since. (You can find my review of the webcomic here, but warning, it's an early one.)

I had always hoped to get a chance to meet Rice, but the fact that she's British got in the way. However, this year, I'm super-excited that she's comics to SPX this year, and is Ignatz-nominated to boot! (So yeah, make sure you vote Rice in 2013!)

In addition to her webcomic work, Rice sometimes does mini-comics as well, but in a hand-drawn format. I was fortunate enough to find a copy of Looking Out at my amazing local store, Atomic Books, and I found I liked it just as much as My Cardboard Life, but for entirely different reasons.

Set in a nebulous future, we are introduced to Lori, an explorer who's shown early on to be a bit different from the rest of the world she lives in. When a young man named Daniel follows her lead, a relationship blooms, even as Lori must go out into deep space. As the comic moves along, we learn just why Lori is so distant in a heartbreaking story of loss. By the end, we're left with the question of whether Daniel can handle Lori's pain or if she will remain alone.

I absolutely love the fact that this is a long story with a fantastical backdrop. Rice nails the fact that no matter where we live, humanity will always be about relationships and that a science fiction story can tell a romantic story that's just as good if not better than some rousing adventure tale with lasers and monsters.

The only monster here is guilt, and perhaps misplaced guilt at that (I'll leave it for you to decide when you read it.) The best part, however, is that the feelings are understated from start to finish, with Rice allowing her characters to build to the confessional climax naturally, the way you tell your partner the worst things about yourself only when you're ready to keep going past the first few dates. Rice's a dialogue here feels extremely natural, flowing from the fantastic to the mundane.

It's great storytelling, and Rice's visuals match her plot and pacing just right. While her style isn't flashy, reminding me of the creators who make up the majority of Oily's roster, I could not believe the level of detailing that Rice includes in every panel. Despite most of her human figures being more of rounded shapes than anything else and her linework doing almost nothing in the way of shading or giving the appearance of depth, Looking Out is an incredibly detailed world. Every single page and panel is crammed with little bits, whether it's showing countless homes linked together by thin and winding paths, an outer space that's got jagged lines and infinite bits of stuff, or a roster of creatures collected by Lori. Without having the ability to be the least bit realistic, Rice does more in one page to set up her world than someone like Jae Lee does in an entire comic book, despite his finely honed figure work.

Looking out is a complete story set in a complete world, and it's something that anyone who likes sci fi and/or relationship comics should put on their shopping list for SPX, right after they tick the box to vote for Philippa in the Ignatz awards.

Lost in space and can't make SPX? You can find Philippa on the web here, with a link to her store.