The Lion And The Unicorn – pretty, yet ultimately empty….

Published On May 10, 2012 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

The Lion And The Unicorn – Volume Zero, Issue 1

Created by Ashram J Pure, featuring Jonny Wong, Javvy M Royle, Roland Hammed, Zack Slatter

Okay, where to start? Good or bad? Let’s go with the good and get to the bad later. But if you’re after a quick summary The Lion & The Unicorn is a really nicely presented misfire of a comic that just doesn’t provide anything like the experience the writer/creators are obviously thinking it should.

Good – it looks just lovely, if you like your artwork very computerised, very effects laden, very flashy. I’m not that keen on heavy computerised stuff usually, but the craft involved here is good, and there are images that I did really like.

I was looking through a pdf rather than a print version, but from the tone of the work, the presentation, the stylings, I can only assume that the print work is similarly impressive. Here’s a couple of the pages to give you an impression:

The real problem is, once I get past that initial impression of good, solid, craft, I start picking fault. I don’t like to, I certainly take no enjoyment from pulling apart UK published comics from new creators. But there’s a problem here that seems to be somewhat inherent in modern comics, and one I’ve been seeing a lot recently in a series of UK digital comics I’ve said thanks but no thanks to.

And it’s all about content.

Or lack thereof.

The first issue of any comic, especially something dramatic rather than alternative, has to really hit you hard, fast, brilliantly. Has to deliver enough content to keep you interested and involved. Otherwise the moment is lost, the short form of the comic not enough to keep me/you interested. Transmetropolitan, Sandman, Animal Man, or more recently Harker, The Absence, Mark Waid’s new Daredevil series – all perfect examples of a great first issue – you’ll no doubt have your own.

There’s just nowhere near enough in The Lion & The Unicorn within the 22 story pages to make it worth my while to keep going with. Add to the general lack of content the thorny problem of the artwork – page after page after page is pretty much a glorified splash page. 11 of the 22 pages have just one or two panels. And it means there’s just not enough going on in the comic, not enough to generate any interest in the story, just not enough.

In fact, flick to the end pages, the two page backmatter and the back page summary and there’s something there, something to set up a little interest. But why the hell isn’t that inside the actual bloody comic itself? Here’s the back cover (the only edit I’ve made is to increase the text size to make it readable at this scale):

Almost none of that actually appears in the comic in anything more than tangential or passing reference. There’s a little mention of corporations, but no context, there’s a visual setup of the country, but again not much context.

The pre-titles sequence (to borrow film references) of 7 pages does a great job, solid storytelling sketching out the scene, a mysterious death on the subway of an England of strange psychic tech, corporate controlled. But then there’s nothing to expand on this. After that opening 7-pages we see the old king on his sickbed, worried for his country and his legacy. His son Jonathon has a training fight. It ends with an ominous hand clutching some burning newspapers.

And that’s it.

In fact, the pre-title sequence is denser than the rest of the comic content-wise. Not the way it works at all. And sadly, it didn’t work at all for me. Don’t use the back cover to tell more story than the insides, it simply isn’t good enough. Using a back page of prose to tell me everything you missed in the comic itself – not good enough. And having lots of online content matters not one whit if the comic is essentially empty.

I hate railing on a UK comic, especially a new self publisher. But I’ve been seeing more and more of this sort of content light stuff recently, especially those utilising digital to deliver something that takes less than 5 minutes to read. What the publishers need to do is sit back and read their own works, subjectively. What content does it deliver, what reading experience? Is it enough? If the answer’s no, for God’s sake, go back and make changes. If you’re convinced that 1/2 panels a page is the way you want to go, then do another 20/30 pages, then repeat the honest read-through. Does it tell a good story? Or does it merely hint at something that needs clarification and expansion through text?

If that’s still the case, you’re definitely doing it wrong.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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