Creating World of Emotional Layers in Darcy Van Poelgeest, Ian Bertram & Matt Hollingsworth’s Little Bird #1

It’s incredibly easy to get lost in the images in Little Bird #1.  Working with writer Darcy Van Poelgeest, Ian Bertram and Matt Hollingsworth create one image after another that are full of layers; layers of line, layers of color, layers of story, layers of meaning.  As their heroine, the Canadian native Little Bird, tries to find a bigger hero that will help her find justice and revenge, this comic relies on these layers to create its structural strength. A wild story, it contains shades of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa blended through the sensibility of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unique narrative structures to create a new series that defies simple comparisons.  It’s full of its own narrative ancestry even as the comics’ creators look to be defining their own thematic paths. This first issue throws a lot at the reader that could appear as a hodgepodge of concepts without any connective tissue. But the structure of the comic, on every creative level, crafts a unity in the issue that, even if we’re still not too sure what’s going on in the whole story, gives us a visceral emotional and physical experience reading it.

Bertram’s drawings, made up of layered fine lines that pull the images out of his canvas, provide the foundation for Little Bird. Using lines, stripling and crosshatching, where other artists would use solid blacks to depict shadows and light, Bertram builds each image, panel and page with a style that at first glance looks incredibly delicate.  We are used to solid shadows and simple shape in our comics; that’s the legacy of Jack Kirby, Neal Adams and Jim Lee that so many mainstream comics are built on. That’s what we think of in our comics but Bertram’s artwork, using small hash marks to create form and shadow, looks thin and fragile on the surface. Yet the way that these hash marks come together to create these detailed panels reveal that Bertram has far more control over his images and how we read them more than most artists can even dream of.  

The world of Little Bird is this fascinating mashup of fantasy, dystopian science fiction and even some superhero fun thrown in for flavoring.  After her old-world looking Canadian village is attacked by American forces, Bertram draws this trek through North America that includes supernatural forces and an incredibly amount of blood and guts after an ax battle.  Little Bird’s story about finding a hero or a savior gives Bertram room to cover a lot of different ground in this issue. That’s another set of layers in the comic as no two pages look alike, differing emotionally, spiritually and energetically from every other page.  Bertram really lets the moment dictate the structure of the page. Some pages are only a few big panels, focused on one or two main images for the reader to linger over. Other pages are these tightly constructed sequences, with many panels that break down each moment into its own beat, no less detailed but requiring more attention to be paid to the action than the detail or even emotional beat of the page.  

Adding to the complex delicacy of this issue are Matt Hollingsworth’s colors.  Employing an understated palette (similar but maybe even more subdued to his work with Rick Remender and Jerome Opena in Seven to Eternity,) his almost pastelish colors have a calming effect over Bertram’s often chaotic images.  Hollingsworth’s work, creating some really intriguing lighting for Van Poelgeest’s story. It’s another layer of the myth building in this story, using an under saturated approach in nearly every scene to emphasize the emotional state of the characters.  As much as they help to set the scene, Hollingsworth’s colors shape the emotional spectrum of the book, complementing Van Poelgeest and Bertram’s work to create a visceral, spiritual and emotional comic. The emotional impact of this story relies on Hollingsworth’s colors as his work functions on a more intuitive level than just trying to recreate the colors of reality.  His colors are charged with an energy that we almost instinctively understand. We can “read” his colors just as we read Van Polgeets’s words or Bertram’s artwork. The colors have a meaning that we understand on more than just a visual level.

The layers of this issue are even evident in the narrative itself.  Van Poelgeest writes the character Little Bird as a naturalistic, if maybe even primitive, character.  The clash at the heart of this issue, between this naturalistic character and a world that appears to believe in and value everything other than nature, gives room for Van Poelgeest to apply all different types of stories, conflicts and myths on top of one another.  Political intrigue, religious manipulation, superhero destruction and even coming-of-age stories are all contained in these pages. And rather than feeling crammed and short changed, Van Poelgeest and Bertram pace out the book so that these conflicts become part of this constant clash that’s happening perpetually in this world they’re shaping.  

Little Bird #1 is a comic about layers.  All of Bertram’s fine lines, overlapping and complementing each other, layer together to form each panel.  Each panel layers over the previous one to create sequences, which themselves layer together to build a story about these different layers of society and the world.  And while the layers of this world clash, the work of Darcy Van Poelgeest, Ian Bertram, Matt Hollingsworth and Aditya Bidikar (who has quickly become one of the most versatile letters around) create layers of support and strength, making this first issue one of the strongest debuts in a long time.

Little Bird #1
Written by Darcy Van Poelgeest
Drawn by Ian Bertram
Colored by Matt Hollingsworth
Lettered by Aditya Bidikar
Published by Image Comics