SPX Spotlight 2014: Distance Mover by Patrick Kyle

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Written and Illustrated by Patrick Kyle
Published by Koyama Press

Distance Mover is a science fiction story of travel and adventure. More specifically, it is the story of Mr. Earth, an elemental guardian being who travels all around the world (or many worlds) in his ship, the Distance Mover. This is a thoughtful, fun story with an art style completely different from most anything I've previously read.

While traveling in the Distance Mover, Mr. Earth comes to a village and observes archaic rituals such as "boulder pushing" and "stick bending." There he meets an artist named Mendel, whom he invites to travel with him in his Distance Mover. Their first stop is the city of Toh Ruylth, a highly sophisticated place where citizens leave their bodies in order to travel to work. The guardians of the city first refuse access to the city to Mendel (as he is a Groundling) so Mr. Earth and Mendel decide to sneak in (specifically to get into an art exhibition).

Unfortunately they are detected and imprisoned. One of the scientists of Toh Ruylth (Yurrik Huron, a former student of Mr. Earth) decides to investigate the Distance Mover; by the time Mr. Earth and Mendel make it to the Distance Mover, Huron has taken it for himself in his plan to become the new Mr. Earth. Mendel and Mr. Earth make their way to underground catacombs where they encounter some of the people of Toh Ruylth who are not part of the aggressive current leadership. Mr. Earth reaches out to the Distance Mover (to which he has a connection) and he and Mendel leave behind the rebels who are captured by the leadership. When they return, because of the speed at which the Diatance Mover was traveling, hundreds of years have gone by and the people of Toh Ruylth have evolved into a whole different form of life, as they exist as part of a larger consciousness. 

Mr. Earth returns Mendel to his village, and they intend to travel more. However, the ship is diverted to Mr. Earth's home. The other "Misters" (Mr. Sea, Mr. Sky, Mr. Magma) need to speak with Mr. Earth, as they're unhappy with his intervention into the affairs of the "lower" people for whom he is simply supposed to act as guardian. They give him a mission (and an ultimatum, not to disappoint them) to infiltrate a new civilization and stop whatever's blocking their ability to monitor that civilization (but don't allow Mendel to accompany him). When they believe Mr. Earth has left, they throw Mendel into a dungeon and plan to erase his memory. However, Mr. Earth frees Mendel and they investigate what's going on; it appears that the new civilization is an aggressive ooze that has he ability to impersonate beings such as Mr. Sea (who's been replaced), and to infiltrate computer systems. Mr. Earth leads the ooze away and eventually appears to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop it. Mendel awakens and he's back in his Groundling village. Time passes, he works on his art, and he wonders whether Mr. Earth will ever return. He eventually finds an envelope in his pocket with the location of the Distance Mover. It's clear that Mendel is going to head off and have adventures of his own. Perhaps someday he'll get will see Mr. Earth again.

This is an entertaining, interesting science-fiction story, in the tradition of Dr. Who and other stories about advanced being traveling from world to world (or place to place); the story also reminded me of Star Trek episodes where the crew would encounter some less advanced civilization and inevitably break the Prime Directive. It's got explorations of different sorts of societies, time travel, and shape changers.

The story is told in sequentially but each page is essentially one large panel; each panel might have some dialogue, or might be more abstract. The art style is highly stylized and the line work is deceptively simple; while Kyle does not include backgrounds and the art is pretty minimalist, each page moves the story along and is very effective in conveying a sense of "otherworldly-ness". While the characters designs are relatively simple (and there is limited amounts of shading), the book is full of psychedelic scenes and creative flourishes that add to the sci-fi feel of it.  Each character is portrayed distinctively as well, and in certain situations the characters change shape as part of the story, but not so much that a reader can't follow what's going on. The dialogue throughout the story is relatively earnest and straightforward; sarcasm and irony aren't really expressed through the dialogue, but those elements come through plot points in the story (as when the other Mister elementals mock the Distance Mover as a mode of travel, when their own vehicle is not appreciably better).

There were some pretty insightful moments in the story, as when Mr. Earth first goes to visit the Groundlings' village and expresses judgment as to how they still engage in what he sees as archaic rituals (boulder rolling, stick bending). We see Mr. Earth's more judgmental nature at the beginning (as he is ostensibly a "superior" being), but he learns over the course of the story, as he befriends Mendel (from the "primitive" Groundling village). Mendel becomes his close friend, confidant and (maybe?) successor. Mendel also grows and learns over the course of the story, as he had previously never ventured beyond the confines of his village; by the end of the story he's become someone very different, as he desires to explore and see as much of the world as he can. Each of the main characters experience real growth, and this is movingly rendered by Kyle.   

For a fun, very different sort of science fiction experience, give Distance Mover a look.

Photographs courtesy of Jessica Fortner.