12.17.2009

Signet by Austin Hendry

Signet #2 (Master Whale Productions): The second you see it in front of you, it’s obvious that Austin Hendry’s second mini-comics effort has great production quality. The cover has warm lush colors on heavy cardstock, and I love the texture of the inside covers. It actually resembles more of a small press comic book than it does a “tried-and-true-done-it-at-Kinko’s-myself” mini-comic type of mini-comic, but that’s like a breath of fresh air. It’s great to see a creator, with their second offering no less, overcome that DIY printing hurdle so successfully. I was mildly confused by the numbering of the issue; despite an explanation, it was unclear to me if this was truly the second issue of Signet proper, or if this prequel was merely the follow up to the initial co-created book that the protagonist Findarius first appeared in. It’s clear that Hendry has a good eye for design. I dig the lettering of the title, with little fraying flourishes to the font’s serifs; that was an inventive touch. The designs for the soldiers’ uniforms and the world they inhabit are also richly detailed. Looking at the panels, that dense sense of ornate detail also comes with strong use of perspective, depth, panel variations, and stylistic cues that aid the telling of the story. For example, Hendry uses darkly inked borders to intuitively code the flashback sequences, or skewed parallelograms for the panels depicting the speed and movement of the action sequences. There are some simply beautiful shots, like Findarius aboard a wagon crossing a stone bridge at the bottom of page 9; that jumps out as a perfect capture of a storytelling beat, of an isolated moment in time that lingers with the reader. The most noticeable opportunity for improvement concerns Hendry’s use of dialogue. The majority of it flows nicely, but in a few instances I found it to be awkward and stiff. “Give me a moment, I have them right here” could easily be replaced by a simple “I have them here.” I would suggest to Hendry utilizing the dependable method of reading your dialogue out loud or, better yet, having a friend read it aloud to you. That exercise is often very telling in terms of which phrases are in need of forced minimalism to expel the needless white noise words. Lines such as “I’ll wait until they are asleep” could easily be replaced by “I’ll wait until they’re asleep.” It’s a subtle difference in a printed script, but when read it’s much more natural. Like it or not, contractions are just the way people speak. “I couldn’t stand by, idle, and watch this fine horse…” could have read “I couldn’t stand idly by and watch this fine horse…” It eliminates the awkward pause delineated by the commas. Those small quibbles aside, Hendry’s storytelling panel to panel is effective. He employs a great sequence, sans dialogue, that is a terrific introduction to Findarius’ character. For audiences that are largely unfamiliar with this protagonist, the quiet scene with the blow dart exhibits the craftiness of the main character, as well as his mysterious past when he casually passes his own wanted poster. That was a terrific and understated reveal. I feel like the main character has been introduced, and the panel to panel transitions are golden, but I also don’t feel like I have a strong sense for what the larger story is about. I know there is a kind and capable traveler with a mysterious past who has returned home to retrieve his father’s ring. Beyond that, there’s no narrative thrust or further plot development. This diversionary vignette feels like a simple introduction and not a complete story per se, but perhaps that was the intent. I think that with additional length or future issues of Signet that develop the overarching story, along with some continued honing of the dialogue, Hendry is capable of growing to be a powerhouse creator. The book’s production values, artistic craftsmanship, panel designs, and their transitions all shine. It makes me want to learn more about this world and a book like Signet could easily share the space in the market that (dating myself) fantasy infused books like Elfquest or more modern fare like Mouse Guard do, and uhh, I guess we won't mention the CrossGen line(?) since that didn't end so well. It’s worth noting that creator Austin Hendry is a student at Michigan State University (MSU), and if this is any indication of the talent happening over there with the guidance of professor Ryan Claytor, then I’m eagerly anticipating more! Grade B+.

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