7STRING - Volume 1 by Nich Angell

Written by Nich Angell
Illustrated by Nich Angell
Published by Big Punch Studios

Finding your way through life and prioritising your own personal goals without compromising the dreams of others is a dilemma that everyone faces at one point or another. Now imagine that this journey is set against the backdrop of a musically-imbued universe where your very being is held together by the song that drives you forwards. Everyone has their own inner tune and rhythm that defines their life force and people are required to define their own solo while also attempting to harmonise with everyone around them. Oh, and people fight with weaponised instruments; that's also kind of important.
Falling into the standard fantasy mold, Angell fills the speech with familiar and yet wholly unfamiliar terms that force you to adapt to a new way of thinking. Instead of the brand new and unpronounceable words that you usually encounter, this is recognisable musical nomenclature that establishes that, while the words are familiar, their usage most definitely isn't and this isn't the world that you think you know. By setting this up early on, when they are included in quick succession later, it doesn't matter that the usage clashes with your existing frame of reference and you are able to enjoy the new language for what it is.
Accompanying this brave new world is a beautiful realisation of the music that runs through the veins of daily life. Creating a physical representation of something that usually only exists in non-visible forms could have easily backfired; the smooth feeling that has been imbued into each panel allows you to easily connect with it and believe that, if music were to have a form, then it would look like this. By then combining this swirling aesthetic into the actual structure of the panels themselves, there’s a true feeling of totality so that, in the space of the three issues, you already get the feeling of a very established idea that has been lovingly and painstakingly poured onto these pages.
Confrontation in a world that is built on the foundations of a usually passive construct like music isn't immediately apparent. There was a chance that it would manifest itself in a metaphorical “Battle of the Bands”, such as in the Scott Pilgrim series that Angell clearly draws influence from, but it's taken in an entirely unexpected direction. This series will take instruments that you think you know and use them in ways that wouldn't even consider; it's clear that each style of fighting is fully fleshed out and it will amaze you with its simplistic complexity.
The Melodia seen so far has been divided into four great nations, as any legendary fantasy is, where each group are masters of a different kind of weapon. Woodwind, electronic, strings and percussion instruments have become so ingrained in the culture that it has affected their very way of life. Our protagonist, Zachary, fights with a guitar/sword combination that has to be one of the most majestically constructed weapons I think I've ever seen.
He channels his musical prowess with the mythical 7-stringed instrument to generate a weaponised form of his talents which he then projects back at his foes. My favourite moment in the volume that epitomises the unexpected story beats was the reveal of the electronic nation's unique abilities: a character samples what would be a devastating blow and sends it firing right back into his aggressor's face. Not only is it a shrewd demonstration of a new ability, it continues to show off what you can create in a book when you think outside the usual confines of the panels.
Looking at the beauty of the battles themselves will bring delight to your eyes from the unconventional integration of the panels with the action to the bright colours that fill up your vision. There is a certain aura to the action that falls somewhere between a cartoon such as Avatar: The Last Airbender and the exaggerated motion from anime such as Sword Art: Online. One particularly impressive shot is where Zachary emerges from another realm and, in one clean motion, leaps into the air, slices open the roof of the car and then lands, sword drawn, on the road behind. It makes you feel as though you're watching an true animation and that is an extremely rare feeling.
Bringing a certain majesty and intricacy to the design only adds to the sense of realism that oozes from this title. There are some truly fascinating designs that invite so many questions about the world and invite you even further in. My personal favourite example of this, and the splash page that is going to remain in my mind for quite some time, is the view of the Hanging Village of Trill; it's such an impractical and unstable design that the history behind its initial construction and the way that people exist on it during their day today lives is unbelievably intriguing. While this village hints at the hidden depth, it is by no definition the only proof and you are going to find your own piece that keeps you coming back for more.
After all of this plot, there are a pair of two-page spreads in the third issue that begin to explain the deities that rule over Melodia and start to delve into the aforementioned themes that run as an undercurrent to the main story. There are people in the lore of this book, known as soloists, that are meant to pave the way for success and are destined for greatness. However, what these pages emphasise is that, even though this may be so, that doesn't make what everyone else does less important. Every single person is the protagonist of their own story and their harmonies are what make life worth living; this sings out to me from this book, and it's a message that I can really get behind.
This volume is a fantastic introduction into a phenomenally strong world that, while it unloads a lot of information on you, is so rich and vibrant that decoding never becomes a chore. With the information contained within the last few pages of this collection, there seems to be endless possibilities for what Angell can do as everything continues to emerge from the cocoon that he's begun to set up. Fantasy can often constrain itself to standard sword and sorcery tropes, but these established approaches have been utilised in fresh and innovative ways. You can't help but imagine the soundtrack that would accompany this title if it were adapted into animation and, with a book that generates such a strong auditory response, I truly believe that it would make a fantastic accompaniment to your life.