Propaganda back with Team Edginton/D’Israeli – Stickleback
Rebellion / 2000AD
Edginton and D’Israeli have become one of the most dependable writer and artist teams in comics at the moment. It’s obviously a good, rewarding collaboration, as the results of their combined labours has seen some of the best comic work of both of their careers. I particularly enjoyed their wonderful post War Of The Worlds tale: Scarlet Traces & the Steampunk Lovecratian mystery of Leviathan (review of both here).
It may sound a touch condescending, but I know that when I’m getting an Edginton/D’Israeli book I’m going to settle down with something entertaining, enjoyable and satisfyingly lengthy. And so it was with Stickleback. Maybe not quite as good as Scarlet Traces or Leviathan, but close enough (I actually thought it was better than Leviathan myself and I rated that highly – Joe).
This collection contains both Stickleback series that have seen print in 2000AD so far: Mother London and England’s Glory. Stickleback is the “Pope Of Crime” in London town at the turn of the Nineteenth Century. The Stickleback name refers to the extruded spinal cord on his back, although there is major hinting that all may not be as it seems with Stickleback’s physical deformity. In fact, the idea that all is not as it seems is one that runs all the way through the book. Mother London, the first tale, is particularly nebulous, with Edginton twisting and turning his characters and their motivations all the way through. Mother London sees Stickleback being hunted down by two of the only clean cops in the city, who in turn find themselves questioning which side everyone is actually on. The second tale; England’s Glory, is more straight forward, with Edginton clearly enjoying writing a variation on an established genre tale of the villainous team acting against a greater evil and for the greater good. It might be an old plot, but Edginton still gives us a cracking story.
(Edginton & D’Israeli’s Pope Of Crime; Stickleback. Image from D’Israeli’s blog.)
But the real star of Stickleback is D’Israeli’s art. It’s completely different from the full colour flat work in Scarlet Traces or his usual black and white linework seen in Leviathan. There’s a lot more detailing here and the solid blacks give way to a graduated pallette of full grey tones. It’s actually rather strange at first, as it’s completely at odds with what we’ve come to expect. But D’Israeli’s experimentation with style works beautifully well for this story, and even though his style may have changed, his ability to tell a great story remains.
D’Israeli’s artwork has always been delightful, but with Stickleback he’s completely reinvented his style. But to put it in more detail, I’ll refer you to this fantastic blog post by D’Israeli about the motivations and physical changes necessary to accomplish this and then this post which gives a pictorial breakdown of the stages involved in making the art. In fact D’Israeli’s blog has become a wonderful exploration of the artistic process over the last couple of years and should really be required reading for anyone interested in how good comic art is made.
D’Israeli’s shifted his style from a purely representational way of drawing as seen in his previous works and instead has gravitated towards a form of painted collage. The downside to the painted collage style is that D’Israeli admits, he’s not a painter so has had to come up with a solution perfectly suited to creating this new painterly style. He goes into far greater and more interesting detail at the aforementioned blog post, but suffice to say it works extremely well. None of the detailing in the characters is lost, but the texturing and painting elements really add great depth and help to create the overall style of the book.
(Four of six stages of D’Israeli’s art to make a panel of Stickleback art on the computer. Stage 1: pale blue pencil layouts. Stage 3: flat colour blocks added underneath the pencils to provide guides for textures and shading. Stage 4: Textures. Stage 6: Grays, blacks and shading added for the final panel.)
Stickleback by Edginton & D’Israeli is a really good, solid read. Maybe not quite on the same level as Scarlet Traces or Leviathan for the writing, but the art shines as some of the best D’Israeli’s done so far. It might not be particularly trendy or sexy to be a team that gets described as dependably good, but that’s what they are. And when dependably good provides some very enjoyable reading that takes more than the usual half hour of many graphic novels nowadays, I think good and dependable is high praise indeed. The Edginton / D’Israeli team has become a good indicator that it’s a book worth picking up.
Richard Bruton has reluctantly given up his long cherished plans to be a semi mythical Cardinal of Crime, pulling strings across the land from his lair as it would probably be a bad example to his wee girl .