Artist Review: Afterworld
Review by Barry Keegan
After recent talk online of comic book reviews leaning towards writers and not enough focus on the art, I have volunteered to review an Irish book with this in mind. Art to a certain extent is down to taste and opinion but as Dave Ferguson pointed out some reviewers may not have the confidence to critique it as they’re not artists themselves. I would call myself an artist who buys books mainly for the the art so I’d like to contribute to the Irish scene by writing this review. Maybe there will be more in the future but for now lets see how this one goes.
The chosen book is titled Afterworld, it’s drawn by Rob Carey and written by Stephen Carey. For the format of the review I will cover a few different areas as artists are constantly juggling a number of key ingredients to get their book looking the best they can be. The focus points are as follows (1)Execution, (2)Cover, (3)Characters, (4)Environments, (5)Sequentials/Storytelling, and (6)Final Thoughts
Thoughts on execution
The art in this book works really well in black and white and doesn’t ‘need’ colour, just in case there is a plan for it down the road. Looking through the pages you instantly get the vibe of a rough in “a good way” style, however sometimes the “good rough” moved too far into the messy realm. I think the key to having the right balance is rendering artwork that is rough but tightens up at one focal point. For example there were some larger head shot panels which I would have liked to see the eyes, but instead there was a sketchy shadowed finish. This technique work perfectly for smaller panels or distance figures because in those shots there is a lot more happening. But when you go big and up close on a face I think you need some life in the eyes to draw the reader into the character.
Rob’s strongest area is his ability to draw characters without a doubt, he is very good at it so I wouldn’t fault him much in this area. There was the odd strange hand position or stiff pose but very minor stuff. So if you’re going to pick this book up you will be treated to an artist comfortable in his style who has no problems depicting some realistic gritty characters.
I liked the concept of the bullet shell coming out of the gun with the title on it however for two reasons I didn’t think it was right for this story, and I believe there was a missed opportunity to take advantage of the book’s concept.
Firstly I thought the execution wasn’t up to the standard of the wonderful interiors. This might have been due to the fact that the chosen camera shot was a close up of a gun which looks a little under referenced, and the hand holding it looked rough for the size of it on the page. This level of detail would be fine in an interior panel but I think placed on a cover you’re required to go that extra mile and get it looking perfect.
Secondly the theme of the story Afterworld gave great scope to have a memorable cover but instead there is a closeup of a gun shooting which could be used in a million other titles. Off the top of my head why not try render a layout in two halves portraying Reilly’s burnt body from the real world and his soul entering Afterworld. That’s just a quick concept, what I’m trying to say is that there could have been a lot more examined in the cover to push the main theme.
For me probably one of the most important jobs in the collaboration between the artist and the writer is to have visually appealing characters. You want the readers to identify with the cast of the story and see them as different from each other. In Afterworld pretty much all of the cast were white males with interchangeable hairstyles and standard enough clothing. McDonald was one character who stood out because he was older, balder and had bad teeth; props for that one. Now I know it could be argued that these characters were noir styled criminal types all coming from similar back grounds, which is fine. However ‘personally’ I would love to have seen the characters pushed in more memorable directions, maybe make some of them Black, Asian, Middle Easterners, male and female. Now i’m not here saying the story needs to be inclusive of all races, I’m just saying throw in a variety of human beings for some real obvious separation and visual difference.
Also a thought I had as I read the book was that all these characters are dead. I would imagine that now they’re in the afterlife they would feel free to make some more elaborate fashion statements rather than wear regular clothing. Even if you pushed a little motif for each character to help them break apart from the crowd. For example Mr Heart could of had a heart themed metal grill in his mouth, probably not a great example as the character is kind of low key but I feel this is a comic book so lets make the cast obviously different and have unique visual cues. Going through the rest of the cast I could say the character Antoniono might have had some iconic design on his t-shirt and been a woman possibly, but I guess we wouldn’t have had the funny toilet scene then! The main character Reilly I did enjoy, even though he was standard enough the visuals of him naked with only a trench coat to cover up in was a fun motif that made him stand out; definitely more of this please. Mr.Potts wasn’t too bad but if he was a grizzled old asian man with one eye it might have been more fun to draw and look at. So to sum up, the characters were drawn excellently by Rob but I think there could have been a lot more done to push their design further.
There wasn’t too much to see of Afterworld when it came to environments. From a town called Bonedust to the main city of New Limbo which you only got to see from the distance there we saw very little. Even when the story jumped into the bar of The Jolly Corpse there was no establishing shot. I have a feeling that Rob gets a kick out of drawing characters a lot more than environments and as a result this area gets neglected a touch.
The Jolly Corpse was a cool name for a bar in a city called New Limbo. In my head I’m seeing a chance to dedicate two pages of panning through the streets showing the different characters living there where we finally rest at a grotty bar with a neon corpse sign outside, something like this would have enriched the world for the reader. Even the wastelands where Reilly and McDonald ventured out into was filled with sparse rocks. Could there have been a little extra here, perhaps herds of respawned savannah animals among wrecked vehicles and derelict buildings. What I’m getting at is that I think the book needed a few extra little thoughts from the artist to help build on the world and sell the concept. Ok so before everyone thinks I’m getting too negative there were some excellent environmental shots that I’ll address in the next segment.
I think if the reader can follow the story and know what’s happening then the artist has done what is expected of him. This can be achieved in an interesting way, or done in a less interesting way. Rob’s work moved between both, at times there were some truly excellent pages with a great variety of camera shots bringing all the elements of the scene together, which I will list now cause they deserve it! 🙂
When Reilly and Antonio left the wastelands there was a great series of images zooming in and out showing the vehicle, environment, and penguin looking on as they left the scene, all nicely brought together. Even the scene of Reilly and McDonald talking in the van before they left New Limbo, this scene was inventive with a really nice shot from outside the vehicle looking through the armoured window slits. These moments showed some awesome work from Rob and I think the more he pushes this his books will go to the next level.
There were some less impressive talking head scenes in offices and bars that could have been more interesting rather than shadowy scenes. Like Mr Heart’s place could have been full of unique furniture to enrich his character and in turn add more interest to the talking heads scene. Use some of these props to rest the camera while the characters converse.
One last point on the story telling side of things. At some emotional moments I felt the characters facials expressions could have been thought about more. For example in one scene Reilly was saying “I was burning. Jesus, I was…ON FIRE” but he didn’t appear to be upset, angry, or surprised. His face was unemotional. Or on the first page there were two shots of the back of Reilly’s head, I think at this moment of transitioning into the afterlife we need to see his face more and feel his anguish.
I really enjoyed the book. Rob is one Irish artist I always look out for who has put a lot into honing his skills. I know without a doubt he spent countless hours at the drawing board achieving the ability to create such a well crafted book like Afterworld. I think with a ‘little’ extra thought the story can be pushed further visually which would benefit it and fire the book to higher heights. I would recommend it not only for the great art but also for the writing from Stephen Carey. The dialogue was excellent, I have to say I genuinely laughed out loud at the Frisbee line, really funny scene ending with such a great line. Throughout it I was entertained and had a smile on my face many times for its cleverness. My taste of book choice normally leans towards interesting “looking” characters and creative environments, Afterworld hasn’t fully peaked my interest here but it’s not a lost cause. I think there is scope to expand the world and the characters to make it more memorable. This is well worth picking up as an Irish book so go and support it. But when competing against the rest of the comic world out there, I have to say there are other stories that would grab me before Afterworld. For all my critiques I take nothing from the effort it takes to create a book like this so well done to the creative team, but at the same time I tried to keep it as objective as possible!