Not The Hypo!
Dueling (Self-Published by Noah Van Sciver): This is not a review of The Hypo! The Hypo isn’t out yet! The picture you see might not even be the cover of The Hypo! This is a review of a totally different book! This book IS “Dueling,” which is an extended deleted scene from the forthcoming soon-to-be-mega-hit The Hypo, and I couldn’t find a pic of the cover. That’s my fault, but the figure work you see here will give you some idea of the style of the contents. The Hypo is the book I’m most looking forward to in Van Sciver’s graphic oeuvre (damn, that sounded pretentious!), so I was excited to see even a deleted scene.
It’s immediately obvious that Noah isn’t going to offer just attention to detail, it’s beyond that, it’s a commitment to detail. It’s evident there in the painstaking wisps of hair, the blood spatters when people are shot with antiquated .50 caliber rounds, or the flecks of color in the cover stock. It’s there in the running adherence to heavier inks, bolder use of negative space, and the sheer depth of field present in every shot. The end result is a much more somber tone than we’ve seen in his autobiographical work, or even in The Death of Elijah Lovejoy, which was the first major shift away from autobio, into historical fiction (I guess that’s what we’re calling it?). My favorite bits of artistic extra-mile are these big smudges of ink. They’re not haphazard, still controlled and effective, but it’s almost as if you can imagine Van Sciver taking a big syrupy gob of ink and thumb-printing it on the page, punctuating the action when someone is shot, like the blood is so dark that it’s now black ink on the page.
From what I can gather, The Hypo will focus on some early, little-known tidbits from the life of Abe Lincoln, but this detour in Dueling highlights the infamous duel as a way of settling disagreements that’s socially acceptable, complete with commonly accepted rules of social engagement. Though dueling is illegal, though it’s obviously violent, Noah lulls you into almost believing that this was a more civil way of settling disagreement than much of the vitriol we so often see slung on the web today. Yeah, you believe that right up until the gruesome end that poor William Graves gets when he ostensibly wins such a duel.
Another remarkable aspect of the construction of this book, which I assume will continue in the full length main feature, is the predominant use of a 6-panel grid system. 9-panel grids have been tinkered with plenty, 4 is common with this 8.5 x 11 folded in half mini-comic size, but with 6-panels, Van Sciver does some really clever things with pace and versatility. He’s able to layer info both horizontally (expected) and vertically (not so expected). For example, in the last page of the intro piece, panel 2 of 6 shows two men back to back preparing to duel, then in panel 4 of 6 beneath it, we expect the typical experience of reading panels left to right, and you can, but you can also follow the interesting discussion of the duel stance to the panel directly above it. It actually pulls your eye up so that the panels can be read up and back, not just side to side.
I was so absorbed by the book that I almost didn’t catch another dynamic, which was the fact that this book is essentially a deleted scene, assumably abandoned in progress, so some of the backgrounds are not fully rendered, just sketched, providing a really slick behind-the-scenes look into the craft of comic-making. Aside from a blurry inside front cover (maybe some meta commentary about the exhaustive process and excruciatingly long wait for the full length The Hypo!), this is flawless execution of what has essentially become a throw-away passage. If this excerpt is this good, I’m reeling at the possibility of how good the feature length story is going to be. Bring the noise, Noah! Grade A.