A mysterious egg, a dark mountain, dubious forest spirits, and a dead god all inhabit this collection of silent fantasy stories set in an alien world far older than our own.’
Written by: Christine Larsen
Art by: Christine Larsen
Publisher: Christine Larsen
Released: August 16 2017
There was a tough choice again this week, especially since one of the other contenders was a Rod Espinosa retelling of Snow White in steampunk fashion, and it took me only a second or two to recognise his artwork from my old Battle Girlz manga circa sometime around high school (it wasn’t that long ago I swear). However, it was competing with the Microcosmics cover image of a diabolical siren summoning death on the rocks, which absolutely drew me in (there’s skeletons!), and the stories had me hooked. The concept of silent stories is always an interesting one too, and I love seeing how artists tackle it.
There’re five stories in this issue, plus a short one-page vignette, and each has a clear colour theme (usually shades of a main colour with occasional secondary and tertiary complimenting/contrasting colours) overlayed on black-and-white rather than being a colour story. This really helps differentiate each story while helping keep a surreal, fantastical feel. I love the character designs too – most of them not human, but human enough to sympathise with. Well, maybe not all of them, but I’ll come back to that. For now, let me enthuse about the linework; the lovely rounded shapes and casual lines hide a professionalism revealed in the consistency of the characters and surrounds. The style is likely most familiar to webcomic readers or Tumblr users, having risen in popularity over the internet in the past several years. I think it came out of the Northern Europe area originally, but became popular thanks to its easiness to imitate by those still practising and starting out while also being a more gregarious feeling alternative to the sort of Marvel/DC house styles that were already not as all-important as they once were but still dominated the mentality of the mainstream western comics scene. I love it for that, since it helped encourage a wider array of comic stylings that we get spoiled with on the internet! So many comics and aesthetics. Larsen puts the distinctive yet easily adaptable style to good use with curved lines creating an easy flow to a narrative that needs it, seeing as it’s completely visual. That visual story-telling component is handled well – I know I’ve talked about it before, but when there’re no words to give you deeper insight to the characters, their movements and expressions (or lack thereof) become incredibly important alongside the world building and communication of emotion to tell the story, and hearts are absolutely worn on sleeves here with love, terror, and despair showing themselves amongst the varied people and vistas of this alien world.
Make no mistake that there is despair here, though. I know I’ve made the cheerful nature of the artwork sounds like it’s full of smiles, and while there are stories of love and hope there is also one I’d say is right in the vein of a ghost story, and the final one is fittingly (though I won’t spoil the plot) called ‘The End’. Those multi-eyed skeletons on the cover aren’t just for cute show – amongst love and children there’s battle and blood, and Larsen knows that unhappy endings can be just as interesting as happy ones, and isn’t afraid to satisfyingly conclude a narrative with no survivors (not ones you’d want to meet, anyway). The characters in these stories do communicate with each other, even if not directly with us; sparse speech bubbles contain no earthly letters or language, though some contain raw emotion with hearts showing us what they’re conveying to others. This is a visual trick I like seeing, since it really conveys the incomprehensible nature of that other language, uniquely suited to visual storytelling. The method of using Roman letters for another language definitely helps give a sense of what it would sound like, but just doesn’t give the same immediate sense of not understanding what you’re ‘hearing’. The liberal use of hearts is used interestingly too, not just in speech bubbles but as the occasional visual cue on emotion. It helped make the story clear and easy to flow along with, letting the fantasy and story wrap you up.
As you can tell, I quite enjoyed Microcosmics. The short stories were done with a good narrative sense and structure, and there were dark tales as well as light. Can’t beat a good story where nobody wins! Especially when it’s well enough told that you don’t feel miserable at the end. The silent aspect was done well, and I’m going to look for more of Larsen’s work in the future. The Comixology listing says this is issue #1 but there’s no issue number on the comic itself so I think it’s standalone. If there’re any follow ups I’ll look out for them though – being able to do stories that end in death and sadness in such a lovely way is a good skill. Come and get this one!
Thanks to Comixology.com for providing this copy of ‘Microcosmics’ for review.