Spotlight Sunday 2.27.22

Spotlight Sundays

An experiment in visual storytelling means there are spoilers ahead for…

Screenshot of a database entry for STEP BY BLOODY STEP #1:
An armored giant and a helpless child. Together they cross an astonishing world brimming with beasts, bandits, and-deadliest by far-civilizations...  If they stop walking, the earth itself forces them onwards. WHY? The child can't ask. She and her guardian have no language, no memory, nothing-except each other. Multiple-Eisner nominees SI SPURRIER (X-Men), MATIAS BERGARA (Coda), and MATHEUS LOPES (Supergirl) present a watershed moment in modern comics: four double-length chapters of a bittersweet fantasy opus, completely text free. Let's take a walk. "STEP BY BLOODY STEP may be my new favorite comic. SPURRIER, BERGARA, and LOPES have created something that celebrates everything comics can be: mysterious, inventive, bursting with imagination and also incredibly heartfelt without ever saying a word." -JEFF LEMIRE
Step By Bloody Step

As I so often point out, what I’m doing here isn’t really reviewing comics or providing any sort of in-depth analysis, but rather I’m attempting to have a conversation, of sorts, about specific comics I’ve read, to tell you about what I liked, what I didn’t like, sprinkled with some anecdotes about my lifelong relationship with comics and my experiences as a comic reader.

It’s an informal, if one-sided, chat between you and me.

So how do we talk about a comic that doesn’t have any words? (Or at least any words that we can recognize, but more on that in a bit.)

If I were considerably cleverer than I am, I would find a way to tell you about this comic wordlessly. Perhaps an all-emoji post?

But I’m not that clever, so we’ll muddle through in my usual long-winded method. Telling a wordless story is a challenge – both to the teller and to the reader of it – and so I have to try to rise to the challenge of telling you about it.

While I don’t do reviews or analysis, I do sometimes talk about the workings of comics: the writing, the art, and the storytelling. And what is storytelling in this context? It’s the way in which the writing and art come together in the unique language of comics to, well, tell a story. To create a narrative and to convey meaning. It’s the sequential flow of action and expression that creates the illusion of movement and an emotional resonance, making the comic something more than just a static set of pictures with – or without – text on top of them. It’s the way they combine to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

In a story without dialogue – or sound effects – the clarity of storytelling is essential. No one is telling you what is happening, requiring you as the reader to figure it out on your own.

Of course, you’re not alone, as the storytellers are there to guide you, to show you what is happening, to ensure that you understand the sequence of events and the meaning of those events.

From the very beginning, in which we see a young girl waking, just barely, while being cradled in the hand of a giant, Spurrier, Bergara, and Lopes serve as exemplary guides. We immediately understand several things:

Though we don’t know their destination, or from where they departed, the girl and the giant are on the move. The environment is inhospitable. The giant is extremely protective of the girl, and the girl is not at all alarmed by her present situation.

As they progress in their journey, we see that there is something forcing them to keep moving forward, as the ground itself will rise up and prevent them from turning back.

It also becomes clear that there is more to the giant’s protectiveness than a simple sense of duty, as it not only defends her from the monstrous creatures they encounter along the way – the giant makes some clothes for the girl from the pelt of one such creature – it also demonstrates a surprising amount of tenderness towards her.

One of the battles with a monster leads to an encounter with other people, and this is the first instance in which we see any kind of language, but it’s presented in strange glyphs that seem reminiscent of the manner in which adults speak in Peanuts.

We see another example of the giant’s kindness as well as a surprising ability, though it’s unclear whose ability it is. The battle with the monster leads to the destruction of the farmers’ crops, but the giant reaches down to the girl’s face and takes away some drops of her blood and the crops grow back once the giant touches the soil of the devastated field with her blood.

When the farmer’s wife attempts to give the girl some food, the giant intervenes, keeping the girl from reaching it and swatting away the offering. Over the girl’s objections, they begin to move on, but one of the farmer’s children chases after them, offering the girl a stuffed toy. The giant relents and allows the girl to move to take it, but the ground has other ideas, and puts up a wall between the two children.

Time passes, and we see that the girl has gotten some new clothes, and the giant has revealed its face after removing the helmet that was damaged in the battle with the last creature. The giant’s face is both human and inhuman, but the sight of it helps strengthen the bond between girl and giant.

With the giant’s help, the girl makes a toy of her own, and we see them continuing on in their established routine of the girl – who now has the toy to keep her company – getting to safety while the giant squares off with the monsters in their path, and we learn that there are monsters following behind them as well.

Because this isn’t a review, I don’t do things like give ratings, but I will note that a lot of review sites have rated this as a 10/10 and I’m not inclined to argue.

As I noted earlier, efficient and effective storytelling is essential in a “silent” comic, and this team clearly delivers on that front, which is especially remarkable given the somewhat unconventional panel layout. Even though several pages aren’t laid out in any sort of traditional grid, favoring overlapping, floating panels, the action is still easy to follow, and the story remains coherent.

Beyond that, it’s a beautiful book to look at. Bergara’s highly-stylized illustrations and interesting design choices work well with the deceptively simple coloring of Lopes. While it looks very different, to me it evokes the work of Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

While there have been plenty of “silent” comics over the years, I’ve never encountered one that seems so ambitious, and I look forward to taking the next bloody step with the second issue.

That does it for this Spotlight Sunday. Be sure to check back…some other Sunday to see if I’ve done another one of these irregularly-scheduled posts. And in the meantime, as a reminder…

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