The serial nature of comics is a mixed blessing. By dividing stories into small installments, shipped every month or so, writers and publishers are able to offer readers a product that does not require a large investment of time or money (although costs have been rising, causing a corresponding drop in sales). On the other hand, picking up an issue of a series five, ten, or twenty-three issues in can be a bit like stepping into a movie theatre right at the midpoint: you sort of understand what is going on, but you’ll always be a few steps behind the action. Many don’t have the energy or money to pick up back-issues or collections, causing the potential for sales growth to dwindle.
(Slave Labor Graphics)
US: Feb 2005
Most comic writers know this, however, so they do their best to provide readers with easy points to join the series. The modern system of five to six issue, self-contained storylines allows new readers to jump right in and catch up with the back-story as they see fit. The slightly more old-fashioned way is to write a recap into the story. Stathis opts for the latter in Evenfall #7 and is largely successful in creating an accessible, interesting story.
Phoebe Shankar has fallen into a depression over her mother’s recent death due to cancer. She has emerged from an apparent night of drinking to find herself in a fantastic Dungeons and Dragons-type world. Issue #7 finds Phoebe and with her companions, a tribal hunter named Sanamar and an anthropomorphic bird-man named Don, aboard the ship of a man named Pablo. Locked away in her cabin below decks, Phoebe relates the major events leading up to her present situation to the audience by way of a journal.
Fleeing the soldiers of an evil figure named the Serpent King, Phoebe and her companions dove into the River of Pain, a Dantean body of water that fills those unlucky enough to swim in it with memories of their most painful memories and thoughts. Rescued by the mysterious Pablo, Phoebe has secluded herself to nurse wounds both physical and mental. After interventions by both Sanamar and Pablo, Phoebe emerges from her room, ready to continue her journey (whereto is still in question), presumably next issue.
While the issue succeeds in conveying a great deal of expository material in a way that is entertaining and involving, the issue occasionally becomes strained because of structural issues. The reader constantly stands at a remove from the events in the story. Phoebe relates Sanamar relating an ancient tale of his tribe. She tells us about Pablo telling her about a small boy’s traumatic childhood. The layering of narratives becomes a bit heavy for such a small space. Stathis would likely do better to just let the reader see the events happening, rather than putting them in exposition or flashback. In addition, Sanamar’s tale, an open-ended story about an injured wolf, hiding in its cave, deciding on whether to emerge and fight for survival or to lie down and die, reeks of cliche and hamfisted formula. The obviousness of the allegory, the injured Phoebe is the injured wolf, destroys any emotion generated by the interaction between these two characters.
Still, Stathis’ work is intriguing when it deals with psychological issues. The River brought up memories of Phoebe’s traumatic childhood, memories that seem to have been the cause of the despair that originally sent Phoebe into her strange new surroundings. On the other hand, Pablo’s ship has ties not to Phoebe’s pain but to the happy moments of her past. The world of Evenfall, which by now Phoebe seems to have largely accepted despite its fantastic nature, somehow relates to Phoebe’s personal life, but the connections remain mysterious at this early juncture. Stathis’ series has the potential to develop into an intelligent, insightful psychological study in the guise of a world of magic and myth.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.