Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Review of the Leopard (issue Zero) by Sarah Horrocks

I didn’t want to recommend anything on this blog without knowing what it is, and reading something seemed like a much more worthy use of my exile, so I bought the Issue Zero of the Leopard by Sarah Horrocks.

(If you want to read her (likely final) opinion on ZakStorm 2017, and also see someone explain to her exactly what transphobia means, here you go.

If we imagine the emblematic Sarah Horrocks tumblr image; a fifteen year old eastern European girl wearing dishevelled clothes, staring straight into camera on something that might be a film set for a very arty horror film or an extremely grim fashion shoot, except the image seem to have been ripped from a 1980’s VHS tape, there are fragmentary bloodstains on the girls clothes, there is a line of text along the bottom which might be subtitling, except its unattributed and whatever it says could be from a Cormac McCarthy book you haven't read, a downer section of the book of revelations or a particularly grim philosopher you faked reading in school, its declamatory, if it’s part of a conversation it seems like there's nothing the other person could say to respond to it.

Well this comic is a bit like that. It's dark and alienated and enthralled with the horror of it's own passions. So, pretty much like Sarah Horrocks if you've ever listened to her podcast. It's somewhat gnomic and by no means shy of pulling an Ancient Mariner and grabbing the reader by the hand and holding them with its glittering eye to unload its doom-laden tale. With, in my case, rather varied effect. But for someone more willing to enter into its particular world, or perhaps with each issue read in a grand sweep so that the volume of events carries the reader with it whether they would wish it or not, it might be preferable.

Don't read it in a library, like I tried to.

Even if you are not into Sarah's work, if you are a serious comics nerd then you might want to pick up an issue just to look at the craft. She is very good at a variety of things.


So, there are two sections to this with two different narrators or main figures. The first section has a really dominant and overpowering use of colour. Strong, near-primary, panel-dominant opposing or contrasting colours, not unlike Basil Wolvertons Spacehawk.

(To be clear, this is the only way in which this is like Spacehawk. In every other sense they are n.o.t.h.i.n.g alike.)

The effect of this on mood is quite interesting, it means that for an angst-laden, body-alienated, Germanically-intense Sarah Horrocks comic, the opening section is quite lively, quite exciting. Fun is the wrong word, but the boldness and energy colour brings is there.

The colours pool in and around Horrocks people who are scratched together by her anguished line. Kind of like if a genius schizophrenic crow had learnt to make portraits of people by gouging lines into pale bark and was really, really resentful about its crow-life, but still pretty good at its job.

And we do see these people from a crow-vantage, as if a bird had become trapped in the room with them and was dashing about, not quite understanding what it sees.

And in the second half, all that goes away and colour fades and mutes into a counterpoint to the pencils which expand in the visual silence left behind to take over the theme.

This part is about a girl in a room and what seem to be smudges of colouration, more part of the artists intent than straight depiction, deepen and sharpen in redness and intensity over several pages until it seems like the girl and the room are covered in blood, which they pass through either uncomprehending or indifferent.

The only light is from flickering screens which are universally old-transmission blue even though one of them is showing the Streefighter Arcade game. It's Horrocks so even Dhalsim looks sad as fuck.

Then the lights fade and give way to blue and the final pages are a really glorious image of a storm enfolding this tiny island of pain which held the main character and then as we turn the page even that gets highlighted with white into some Boreal-Rorschach of dooooooooom.


In the first section memories collapse into these shattered rectangular rivers of carefully-broken glass, and the colour effects mix with this, producing odd intensifications, signalling the readers place in time, shifting the emphasis of memory to produce a horrific effect.

The comic as a whole (so far, based on this one issue) is more a field for a great conflict of passions rather than the plot business of getting people in and out of places.

I really, really like her control of panel, (I hate most mainstream lazy-ass pseudo-movie time control), and she uses a wiiiide variety of time and place shifts controlled subtly with colour, position, text and mood. This is much more formally obvious in the first section but she is still using relatively subtle time/place/emotion shifts in the more-centred second part.

Quick example, page 10;

Top third has one panel with an in-panel time/emotion shift shown with a bisected colour front and offset speech balloon.

Narrow cross-page mid range has a callback to a thematic figure with negative image crowheads intensifying mood and probably being symbolic somehow. Colour range of the negative image leads on from the second part of the upper panel.

Bottom third has a three-panel sepia psuedo-photographic portrait triptych indicating a narration over recalled memory with a speech balloon narrative continuation and emotional intensifier/ironic or dark commentary on those memories at each end...

.....so far, so almost normal for this third, but wait...

AND it has a cutout section with the colouration matching the opening half of the first panel from the top, this has some kind of hag-figure, who is utterly unexplained. She is broken up into vertical sub-panels (this is the only time white intra-panel borders are used on this page, the rest are black or absent) as if she was somehow trapped in a sequence of her own time, also she looks like she is behind prison bars, literally held in a cage at the bottom of a page of darkly ironised memories.

Most pages show a careful intermixing of time and emotion with a similar level of fluidly-displayed skill.


You would need someone with a better eye for art than me I think to talk about her pencils.  The crow-scratch metaphor doesn't really hold past an initial glance. By the time we get to the end the lines feel more like brush-strokes (It's possible they *are* brush strokes, I don't have enough familiarity with art to tell for sure.)

Just get Zak to talk about the lines.

I asked, he said; "She has two kinds of lines: one magnificently Schieleian, one more scabby and experimental but interestingly unpredictable."

The incomparable and brilliant Matthew Adams had this to say; 

"her linework, though very fluid and looking effortless, shows great design (so does her colour) and thoughtfullness, like every line is needed, not wasteful. it is very caligraphic, and you can see the influence of good manga art. it doesn't have the intense obsesiveness of some of zaks work, like you can sorta see zak comes from the fine art/painting field and sarah comes from the comics/manga field (of course this isn't obvious in all their art, it’s a generalisation and you can see the comics influence in zak's work and fine art influence in sarah's).


This comic is about two years old, I have noooooo idea where she has gone with this series since, but if you want to watch something alienating and horrific unfold slowly, with a high level of narrative skill, then here you go.

Click Me

No comments:

Post a Comment