By Benjamin Reed and Chris Wildgoose
A few days previous we had the chance to look at Improper Books’ second publication Knight & Dragon; an all-ages, choose your own adventure comic. And prior to that most of the comic world were rightly impressed with Improper’s début book Porcelain, something a little older, but still firmly in the realms of solid fantasy.
Butterfly Gate is their third release (previewed here), from the same writer and artist behind Porcelain, and it sticks to that same fantasy setting, even if the content plays far older, darker, and bloodier than what went before, a first instalment of an ongoing, episodic thing, all completely wordless, relying on the visual storytelling alone to create these worlds and tell these tales.
Butterfly Gate follows a brother and sister into another world, someplace new and different, somewhere the normal rules of society, perhaps the usual rules of the world no longer apply and they’ll need to find their way amidst “an empire built after a revolution against the Gods”. Reed and Wildgoose promise great things for Butterfly Gate, talking of this first instalment merely being “a tiny scratch on where we’re going” and that we’ll see “these kids travel through space and time and take on armies, nations and Gods”. Big ideas certainly, but based on just this first book, I can see Butterfly Gate delivering.
As with most fantastical sagas, it all has to begin somewhere and somewhen, and Butterfly Gate begins with something that has a very old-fashioned sense of time and place; a little Austen, a little Alice in Wonderland, two children, age uncertain, maybe mid teens for the girl, just pre-teen for the boy, their clothes and the big house in the background pointing to a time gone by.
This summer idyll, all light and airy, sunshine and mown grass, chasing butterflies, leads the pair into the nearby woods, a particularly enticing butterfly, all red and exotic enticing them further and further, out of the light, into the woods…
It’s all getting a little bit Narnia at this point isn’t it?
That isn’t helped by the discovery of a ruined statue, something old, mysterious, otherworldly…..
Bear with it though, after a few pages of CS Lewis, we’re diving far darker, and far bloodier than you’ll see from any wardrobe, magical or no.
The blood is accidental at first, a hand cut on barb wire, that blood activating the statue’s ancient mechanism, something takes the siblings over, and there’s a need to spill blood, a need to open the door, the Butterfly Gate, a portal to elsewhere.
Accidental blood is simply not enough, animal sacrifice still not enough…
The possession takes over, a strange light in the eyes of children, turning them into cold blooded killers.
The blood flows, fresh and red onto the statue, the gate opens, the children pass through….
It looks beautiful, just as you’d be expecting if you’ve seen Porcelain. But you may not be quite expecting the sheer malice and murderous intent that develops inside the first few pages. That blood on the cover? that’s just a glimpse into what you’ll encounter. Oh, the blood flows red and fast inside. The children may not be in control of their actions but the actual deed is shocking in its brutality.
Six months pass.
We’re somewhere else, still with the siblings, but we’re through the gate, somewhere far more exotic, somewhere alien, somewhere fantastical, where the siblings are forced to dive for treasures, living in squalor, working for their slave master, punished so cruelly for any transgression.
Yet taking us to this fantasy world through the Butterfly Gate is not enough for Reed and Wildgoose, and they’ve added another level to surprise even the jaded, when fantasy meets hard science fiction, and a visitor from elsewhere gifts the siblings the means to the next part of their journey. In some ways you need to imagine Saga suddenly turning a sharp left and finding itself in the Euro-Sci-Fi of Peeters or Moebius to get to this point. It’s a great trick to pull off, that’s for sure.
All of The Butterfly Gate looks splendid, Chris Wildgoose surely a star in the making, and Benjamin Reed creating a story that entices the reader onwards ever onwards. But the wordless aspect of The Butterfly Gate is troublesome. Where the first part worked so well, the second just doesn’t read as well, the storytelling not as clear. Traditional comics would disguise their storytelling shortcomings with exposition, words doing what the story falls short on, but here there’s nowhere to hide, once we’re through the Butterfly Gate it simply doesn’t flow well enough.
However, the shortcomings are minor, the experience and the enjoyment major. The Butterfly Gate is a story we’ll return to as soon as Reed and Wildgoose produce their second part. I hope it wont be too long.
Butterfly Gate Book 1 will be available at Thought Bubble, and from selected comic shops before a wider release in 2014.