Vault Week: Fearscape #1

 Fearscape #1
Written by Ryan O'Sullivan
Illustrated by Andrea Mutti
Colors by Vlad Popov
Letters by Deron Bennett
Published by Vault Comics

I think one of the hardest things to do in a comic book is to really establish a character’s voice and personality in a short amount of time. Well, I’m happy to say that Ryan O’Sullivan and the whole creative team involved in Fearscape (artist Andrea Mutti, colorist Vladimir Popov, and letters from Andworld Design) have very successfully painted a vivid character portrait in the first issue. Henry (the main character) is a truly reprehensible human being, and a fantastic character. This is an excellent, really fun debut issue. Mutti and Popov are a perfect choice to bring to life this story that takes place in bars, dark city streets, and magic fantastical realms. If you’re a fan of fantasy stories, and more specifically if you enjoy stories like Sandman, The Unwritten, The Fiction, and other stories about the power of stories, you’ll really enjoy this comic.

Henry Henry is a pretentious, narcissistic, dishonest, amoral fraud and plagiarist. In other words, he’s an aspiring writer. He is a struggling writer and marginally successful translator, and the only reason anyone (such as his agent) pays any attention to him whatsoever is the fact that he is good friends and neighbors with Arthur Proctor, the very successful fantasy novelist. Henry has a remarkable capacity for self-rationalization, and convincing himself that the terrible things he does are only being done by him at the suggestion of others. It is through this remarkable capacity for self rationalization that Henry convinces himself but it would be a good idea to sneak into Arthur‘s home and take a look at Arthur’s latest manuscript. He knows this, but while in Arthur’s apartment he’s discovered by Lisa Proctor, Arthur’s daughter. In that split second Henry decides to take this manuscript for himself.
Henry is visited shortly thereafter by a beautiful Muse, a magical, almost angelic being from the Fearscape, a world of dark magic where human the fears exist as living creatures. She explains to Henry that each generation’s greatest storyteller must help defeat the greatest of all human fears (or some horrific fate will befall humanity). Henry is very much the hero of the story in his head, and as he is willing to undertake a great adventure for the sake of having something to write about, Henry embraces this opportunity.  

Henry really is a terrible guy. He is the worst, and I love him for that. He really does seem to have a boundless capacity for hypocrisy and a lack of self-awareness, and the mental gymnastics he performs in order to make himself either the victim or virtuous, well they’re pretty impressive. Fearscape #1 is a very fun, engaging debut issue. O’Sullivan and company do a great job establishing not only the main character, but also the larger world (or worlds) and the stakes of the story. This is a heavily narrated story, all from Henry’s point of view. But that’s a feature, not a bug, of the story. That he’s a pompous blowhard with an incredibly high opinion of himself brings a tremendous amount of humor to the comic. As does the fact that he’s also an extremely untrustworthy narrator. This is a source of some of the funniest parts in the issue, as Henry’s narration is directly contradicted by what we see in front of us. 
And what we see is fantastic and compelling, thanks to the terrific work of Mutti and Popov. Mutti’s presence on a comic (Rebels, Rome West, Port of Earth) is a real draw for me, because not only is he an excellent artist but I think he’s got great judgment in choosing fun and interesting projects. Mutti has a terrifically organic, naturalistic, angular, slightly scratchy style that works well in a comic like this, where we need to accept the journey the characters undertake from the ordinary world to a fantastical realm built on a foundation of human imagination. Mutti sells both of these places because whether we are in a tavern, an apartment living room, or a bleak dreamscape surrounded by spirits, Mutti brings a sense of grounded reality to the settings, The characters here are fairly realistically rendered, and Mutti does a lot of great work with facial expressions and body language. Henry is squirrelly, and Mutti sells this. He also conveys the beauty of the Muse, and the disdain of Jill Proctor and Henry’s agent for Henry. 
Thankfully, Mutti has a terrific artistic storytelling partner in Popov. I wasn’t familiar with Popov’s work previously, but this comic makes me want to seek out more of his work. his colors are grounded when they need to be, and spectacular and atmospheric where it makes sense. The settings in Henry‘s life such as the tavern and his apartment and Arthur’s home all have a pretty realistic, grounded sense to them. Popov contrasts the mundane world with the beauty of the Muse, to whom he gives a gorgeous, almost golden, angelic glow. Henry describes the music in this way, and it’s helpful that Mutti’s art and Popov’s colors help sell with narrator is saying; this is one of the rare times where Henry is being completely honest in his narration. The coloring inside the Fearscape is also extremely effective in storytelling. It is an ominous and spooky place, a gray realm shrouded in fog and mystery. There is some effective storytelling through color near the end of the first issue, as we see Jill walking through the streets of town. A little bit of the color of the fog from the Fearscape has seeped into our world. We can see through color choices that the barrier between the Fearscape and our world is tenuous. That is very effective comic storytelling.

The creative team behind Fearscape accomplishes a lot in this debut issue. They create a memorable character and a world that I very much look forward to exploring. I recommend this issue.