Beek's Books - an ongoing collection of comic book reviews
  Modern Grimm (Symptom)
written by Andrew Dabb,
illustrated by Derek Mah and David Emmerson

issue #1
Rating: OK, Content: [beyond genre]

 I promised to do this review months ago. But thanks to some upheaval in my life, it got set aside. Now, thanks to some additional upheaval, the book has come to light again, and I have a chance to give it a read, and write it up... altogether too late to have any effect on sales, of course.

  This first issue features two stories, both written by the book's creator, Andrew Dabb. It's in "flip-book" format, with each story getting a "front" cover, and the two of them meeting where they end, in the middle of the book. I read "The Old Woman and the Lions" first... because I liked that cover better. {shrug}

 That cover (a striking rendering of three lions, a crone, and a gnomish scribe) is painted by Derek Mah, who illustrates this story. "The Old Woman" is not illustrated in traditional comics format, but rather as panels running the length of each page of text, much like an illustrated children's book. (One such panel runs the length of this review, on the left.) It's an awkward space to illustrate, but Mah uses it fairly well, giving us portraits of each character featured in the story.

 The story is a fable about an old woman who, on her regular walks in the hills, comes upon the "handiwork" of the lions that roam the area. The tale is told in a traditional story-telling format, repeating key elements of the text with each succeeding episode. This technique underscores an ongoing theme and gives a pattern and rhythm to the story. (A familiar example of this technique is the story of Goldilocks: trying items from each of the three bears, and finding those of the baby bear "just right".) This provides the setup for the final episode, in which the pattern changes... just a bit. It was a bit ambiguous as to what "the moral" of the story was, but I liked it.

  "Animal" is a bit clearer in its point, as a tale about the "savage" traits that contributed to the survival of homo sapiens millenia ago, and helped humanity evolve into one of the dominant species on the planet. But how does that programming fit in with the society that we've developed since then? What happens when the animal reasserts itself?

 David Emmerson's art on this story isn't as strong as Mah's, which is unfortunate, because the story he illustrates is in comics format, and depends more heavily on the art. It conveys the story (i.e. you can tell what's going on, which is not always the case even with more practised artists), but has many of the hallmarks of inexperience: buildings obviously drawn using a straightedge and vanishing point, completely blank backgrounds, inconsistent use of light and dark (usually not enough black ink on the page), awkward body proportions, and some simply ineffective layouts.

 In his brief bio at the end of the story (which I read after writing the above comments), Emmerson acknowledges that this is his first comics work, and needs to work on his craft. He's right. {smile} But he's not without skill; there are some nice bits here and there... just not enough. Another thing that hurts this story is the lettering, which is done with a computer-generated "block writing" font... and looks like it.

 One theme that recurs in this stories is a bit of violent morbidity. Several people die in each of the two stories. I suppose it's appropriate for a series bearing the word "grimm" in its title, and fables certainly need not end "happily ever after". But I wouldn't mind something with a more moderate body count.

 That said, I'd have to conclude that Dabb achieves his stated goal, of writing stories that will "appeal to sophisticated readers and people that just like a good yarn". Despite "Animal"s artistic shortcomings, it provides a thoughtful look at the baser legacy of human evolution; and "The Old Woman and the Lions" offers an interesting tale about suspicion and carelessness. If Dabb can consistently assure that the quality of the art matches his writing, this series could succeed.

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