Review: The Holy Numbers Vol. 1

The Holy Numbers feature image
The Holy Numbers Vol 1
Writer/Artist: Tommie Kelly
Publisher: Independent/Tommie Kelly
Cost: Download here, pay what you choose.
Holy Numbers is a digital only series, and rather than make a print format comic and put it up as a PDF, Tommie has designed Holy Numbers with digital in mind. It uses a landscape orientation, which mean that on either a monitor, a page fits nicely on screen with no scrolling required. Optimising a digital comic for reading digitally might seem obvious, but my experience has been that it is not often considered, and the traditional page layout is more used than not. Those familiar with the scrolling and fiddling required to consume a PDF comic on a monitor will appreciate the difference this makes, and kudos to Tommie for putting some thought into format, and making it a pleasure, not a chore to read.
Collected in Volume 1 are the first four issues of the series, and additional unpublished pages amounting to an extra chapter. The back-end also features a few ‘behind-the-scenes’ pages with artwork, colour tests, and a particularly interesting look at all the stages involved in a single panel, from sketching to shading and colouring.
The Holy Numbers centres on the eponymous cult that springs up in the wake of ‘revelations’ received by its leader Ravensdale. The
first few pages feature these revelations, and quickly skip through the next few months as word spreads, and the cult begins to gather both a huge base of believers and vocal sceptics. This is all the work of a few pages which countdown to the present, where the story really begins. Here we find the cult now an established church, Ravensdale murdered, and more supernatural intrigue than Raymond Chandler assaulting a yeti with the Arc of the Covenant.
As a story, ‘Numbers is a thriller; a spiral of deception, doubt and intrigue that tightens into murder, mystery and majick. Mystery writing is always a delicate balance between keeping the reader in the dark while feeding them enough detail to keep them interested. Tommie Kelly walks this tightrope with aplomb; and despite dropping readers into his story at the deep end, he never ladles out exposition, preferring to flesh out characters and events only as the story progresses. Each chapter peels away another layer, shedding a bit more light on those involved with the Holy Numbers and what their real motives might be. But the growing light often also serves to highlight more mysteries, and issue after issue sees Tommie thickening the plot with further intrigue. The only downside to his storytelling is the potential for some initial confusion as who the characters are, but in the collected volume this is countered with is a very useful cast page up front.
Though it deals with organised religion, Holy Numbers is far from an all-out attack on the church that is all too common and easy these days, and in this country. Where it touches on the subject, it is more a thoughtful look at faith and organised religion, and how they can both intersect or obstruct each other, and the perversion of faith and intent by people and organisation. However, as the story progresses, Holy Numbers seems more concerned with questions of free will, independence and spirituality than those of religion, making it an interesting, nuanced read.
Art-wise, for the most part Tommie sticks to a standard six panel-grid, which helps to ease the flow of the story. As the tale progresses though, there are a number of page designs that disrupt this six-panel basis for more interesting layouts. These pages work only because Tommie has established his ‘normal’ page layout almost as a baseline, which he then experiments with, and subverts to great effect. Again, the thought Tommie has put into his medium is obvious, and a huge strength of the story.
Holy Numbers is an intelligent, mature (in both senses of the word, there’s oodles of nudity) and absorbing read, that marries great storytelling with a great story, and left me wanting more. And as a ‘pay-what-you-please download, it’s as good value as you want it to be.
God help