In 2010, Nicola Stuart was one of several impressive contributors to the Birdsong/Songbird anthology, with her TC. Acorn and Longtail strip which was fast, furious, raw fun, and as I said at the time: “Packed with potential but just a little bit more control and idea of what she wants to do with the strip and Nikki’s onto a winner.”
And this three volume series is the next thing from her I’ve seen. Although it’s something she’s been working on for about 4 years all in.
It’s still every bit the fast paced thing, and wears all its influences right out front; Manga pacing, video game imagery and themes of level bosses and power-ups, and of course, a great deal of Scott Pilgrim. Based on this, Bryan Lee O’Malley must surely be a huge, huge influence on Stu. But influences are everywhere, in everything. It’s not a bad thing in itself. The important thing is what those influences are turned towards.
Here they’re turned towards a huge, sprawling, pretty much non-stop fight scene of a comic, with characters in near constant motion, manga shapes everywhere, manga stylings everywhere. And dammit, it’s lots and lots of energetic, kinetic fun.
Herald Owlett is “a feathery blue monster that lives in a floating forest“. Big hair, too many eyes, solar panels on the forehead…..a very weird mashup of so many things… he’s also the last of the Bushwatchers; “beings able to control the essence of the world and guardians against evil“.
Owlett’s fighting against nasty great shadowy weird things, bristling with lots of big, black tentacles, and killing the trees that Herald seems to be protector of. And behind all those shadow monsters is Bufu, the similarly angular, behorned little monster who seems to know far more about Owlett than he lets on.
Which is about as much background to the fighting you get, and probably about as much as you need. There’s more than that going on, a lot of unanswered questions regarding origins, powers, shadowy figures that Bufo reports to, that sort of thing, but maybe more on that in the next series. Mostly this is about the sheer exuberance and energy of the action.
And that sheer energetic delivery does get you swept up in the comic, which is a good thing, as there are obvious weaknesses in Stu’s storytelling, and her art, that does sometimes make it all a little too frantic, unclear, and you’re left with a page like that below, with a lot of something fun going on, but it’s a little unclear exactly what it is all the time:
Or is that just me being an old git when it comes to this sort of hyper-styled Manga influenced stuff? Somedays I really can’t tell.
So yes, it’s still very raw, and Stu has much to do to rein in her stylings, or at least control them to deliver her story, and her action sequences. But there’s such energetic stuff in Herald Owlett, it would take a really harsh critic not to be at least charmed and impressed with that. The other problem here is that there’s a niggling feeling that this is somewhat behind the curve when it comes to comics now, probably to be expected, after all this is something that’s been four years in the making, and things move on.
Volume One is available as a reworked Version 2.0; with 4 redrawn pages (this time in colour) and a new 5-page beginning which means that stylistically it’s these that give us the best clue as to where she’s heading. And I think there’s a real sign of good things to come with this artist, those early pages pointing the way to a real step up in what Stu’s capable of:
(Herald Owlett by Nikki Stu. Volume 1, Version 2.0, … colour and black and white recent work that bodes well for the future)
Amazingly Stu promises the next volume; “Much Obliged Herald Owlett“, will be “so much more action packed than Thank Goodness“. I honestly don’t know how she’ll manage that, but I’ll be keen to see it, provided she gets on top of the small flaws that get in the way of making something raw and fun a really great little comic.
Certainly the trailer for it looks really promising, as does the trailer for another series Stu is working on; Honeydew and Magic.