By Matt Gibbs and Sara Dunkerton
“MULP is an anthropomorphic comic book, a pulp adventure set in a world of mice”
That’s the back issue blurb and it pretty much sums up the look and the feel of this series. We showed you the first few pages of the first issue in a preview a week back, but here’s a few thoughts on actually finishing the comic.
Thematically and visually there’s familiar comic genetics in here: specifically the romantic adventuring and exotic locales reminiscent of Herge’s Tintin and more recently Garen Ewing’s Rainbow Orchid. We’re up for a little round the world trip, setting off here in Egypt, venturing forth to London, and next issue headed to the South Americas. On top of that there’s that anthropomorphic thing going on, familiar most recently with Bryan Talbot’s excellent Grandville and the Mouse Guard series. And despite sharing a species link with the latter, it’s Grandville that MULP has far more in common with, being more modern in tone, the mice here firmly in an early 20th Century analogue of humanity.
There’s massive visual details to pick up and enjoy, just from those first few pages; the exotic setting, the mice travellers, the street bazaar, but did you catch the giant beetle transport next to the aeroplane? How about the aeroplane on that first page being a mix of wood and metal? Or the fact that the mice at the bazaar are dealing in really big fruit. All well thought out, interesting touches.
This certainly isn’t just a civilisation of rodents living on some different planet though, that would be far too easy. The mentions of an unearthed giant, and this imagery at the dig site are there to show the reader there’s far more to this world than we’re initially shown…
So much to unpack in just that image. The giant humanoid skull obviously, but there’s much else besides, all pointing the readers to the rodent culture at large; the archaeological dig and antiquities uncovered, aside from the skull, are rodent scaled, which means these mice have been here for a long, long time, so where does the skull come into it? Better than that though is the excellent depiction of rodent adaptation, the very best of which is shown by those two harnessed dung beetles (pair of them, middle left), hitched up backwards to roll stone finds as they would normally do with dung. Yes, these are little things, but they all add up and cumulatively build a good experience.
This may all be window dressing of course, some interesting world-building details to throw at us, scene-setting before jumping in with both (small and furry) feet to the adventure. But if so, it’s still well done, very quickly communicating the necessary visual shorthand to allow a lot of storytelling to unfold this issue. For this is a very dense and satisfying read, another similarity it shares with Herge/Ewing and the ligne claire style, there’s lots of reading in here, so Dunkerton’s visual packing of the panels serves good purpose even if it’s not something important to the story.
Oh yes, the story. Sure, it’s anthropomorphic adventure, set in Egypt and London this issue, but you might want to know a little more than that?
The adventure concerns a group of mice, adventurers, archaeologists, journalists, all giving off a very well done Indiana Jones vibe. Yes, it’s an immediately familiar idea, a very familiar look, but it was a stereotype when Spielberg did it, so why the heck should it be off limits now? Spielberg pulled the idea from the pulps, and MULP, just as the name suggests, revisits those pulp adventures.
Inside we’re following Jack Redpath, adventurer, and Vicky Jones, journalist, looking into the unusual archaeological find of a stone tablet with ancient Greek writing and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs together with yet untranslated Mesoamerican imagery. This tablet will send them around the world, plunge them into terrible danger, and generally serve as a damn good reason to get everything moving, just as it should.
Again, even with the religious explanations of the images and text on the mysterious tablet we’re shown more and more detail, the religious imagery full of rodent figures, important to the story? no idea, but yet more great touches from Gibbs and Dunkerton.
The issue fair flies by, setup quickly passes to action, a shooting, a crash, intrigue, secrets, ancient artifacts, a femme fatale, musclebound goons, a mysterious evil genius lurking in the shadows… oh yes, a lot in here. And because Gibbs and Dunkerton guide us through so well, it’s both fast and involving, each page loaded with information, but only rarely straying into exposition, and even rarer that the exposition feels as though it’s detrimental to the pacing.
It’s not all great though, Dunkerton’s artwork, especially in those first few pages just feels a little too flat, dropped onto the page, too obtrusive. Once the story kicks in, once the adventure begins, things improve, but the jarring nature off those early pages, especially the perspective in the panel which is adapted for the cover, is a little offputting initially..
The prime example of that which I speak; the car seems to sit flat on the page, despite the perspective shift of the road beneath it. It’s not a terminal flaw, but it needs mentioning, if only to stop it happening too much once more.
But away from the perspective problems, Dunkerton excels at the figure work, her character designs in the extras section an absolute delight, her finished figures a distillation, the end result of all that prep, all seeming ever so natural, body language and expressions captured really well…
MULP works as a first issue, and promises so much as a series. Hopefully Gibbs will see fit to collect this at some point in the future, once the series concludes. That way, I’ll be in a better position to share it with the children at school, especially those enlightened souls on the British Comic Awards judging panel who adored The Rainbow Orchid.
Oh, one thing – I get the idea behind the title, the conjunction of Mouse Pulp, but MULP? Not my idea of the best title. But aside from that MULP does so many things right.
For more on MULP, head to their website.