Friday, November 22, 2013

Sparkplug Highlights: The Natural World, by Damien Jay

If you love stories about witch trials, medieval small-town politics, and religious hypocrisy, THEN WHAT ARE YOU DOING RIGHT NOW NOT READING THE NATURAL WORLD?! Seriously -- do yourself a favor and pick up the first four issues as soon as you're done reading this blog. An entertaining and gripping account of a medieval hamlet's encounters with witches (real and imagined), forest spirits, and violent brigands and the convoluted relationships between the townspeople, The Natural World is at its heart a timeless story about people -- scared people, power-hungry people, people with secrets, and people just trying to get by.

Jay introduces a fascinating cast of characters who orbit around each other throughout the course of his four issues: a simpleton who understands more than people give him credit for, his brother who rails against licentious witches one hour and cheats on his wife the next, a man driven out of the town and left to fend for himself in the forest, a pack of thieves, a courageous woman who wants more out of her paramour than he's offering, a friendly dog, and a bizarre and otherworldly entity who lives in the woods and communicates incomprehensible messages. When the threat of witches in their midst arises, the town begins to turn on itself; meanwhile, something in the forest grows stronger. . .

Jay's art is wonderful to behold. He skillfully combines a classic cartoon aesthetic with delicate watercolors, his graywashes adding depth and sophistication to each panel. With a few lines, his character's expressions are rendered clear as day; his backgrounds range from nonexistent (used when drawing attention to the characters at the forefront) to lushly detailed (especially when he's depicting the forest or the rolling hills surrounding the town). Jay also has a serious flair for the comedic: there are so laugh-out-loud funny bits of dialogue, the adorable dog is the perfect goofy canine companion, and there are even a couple of classic cartoon fights, complete with disembodied eyes and fists in a giant cloud of dust and stars. This is a comic that moves smoothly between serious art and funnybook silliness with ease. Grab it today, and be on the lookout for issue #5!

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