Friday, January 18, 2013

365 Comics...18: Winterworld HC (2009)

I love post-apocalyptic concepts, and I love stories that take place in a winter and/or snow covered setting.  Winterworld seems like it was made explicitly for me.  Of course, it was originally published in 1987, so I'm not even sure both those tastes of mine had formed yet (well, I knew I loved winter-set stories already because of the Hoth sequence on Empire Strikes Back).

At that time, being around 11 or 12, I remember finding random Eclipse comics at "San Francisco", a novelty store in the neighbourhood mini-mall near my house - Reid Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman and Kamui, if I recall correctly.  In one or more of those 4 or 5 issues I found, there was an ad or perhaps "bullpen" page writeup on it.  The art looked great and the name, Winterworld, simplistic, catchy, and evocative, reflecting the concept perfectly.  Not that it stuck with me but when I somehow overlooked IDW's reprinting of the 3-issue mini-series in 2009, but the started seeing it in the remainder shops around town mid-last year I was drawn to it instantly.  It was only a matter of time before I picked it up.

This is one of those post-apocalyptic environments where the events that occurred happened long enough ago that memories of the old world are scarce, and the supplies of former civilization are nearly depleted.  Times are tough, people are generally desperate, and it's truly survival of the fittest.  Scully is a born forager, intelligent, somehow educated, accustomed to a solitary life looking out only for himself amidst a cold world of savages.  He's known in the terrain as a trader, but people don't really earn reputations here, as everyone is constantly viewed with suspicion.  When Scully runs into trouble with some other traders and rescues, then in turn is rescued by the teenaged Wynn, he finds himself for the first time questioning his loneliness preference.  Along with his loyal (and vicious) badger Rahrah they traverse the dangerous ice and snow covered wastes of the southwest, constantly finding themselves at a disadvantage and frequently paying a price for their isolationist ways.

The story and characters of Winterworld are well-developed and excellently conceived.  Dixon obviously has a larger world envisioned than what actually made it to the page, as well as more back story for Scully than what we ever learn, but it's this richness what makes it so easy to invest in.  The pacing and flow, particularly of the first series, can be choppy at times (which may be a result of translating the script to his Argentine artist), and Scully's mood swings are puzzling at first until you begin to realize that he's just kind of like that.   Chuck Dixon had been working in the industry for about a half decade by the time Winterworld came about, mostly on creator-owned projects for Eclipse like Airboy and Evangeline, and it wasn't long afterwards that he established himself as a key player at DC throughout the '90's.  Obviously he's established a name for himself over his journeyman years that will draw attention back onto an earlier title of his, but once there, the focus (which Dixon plainly acknowledges) falls to Argentinian artist Jorge Zaffino.

There are some incredible, nay, awe-inspiring illustrative skills at work in this book.  Zaffino's art is at once effortless and passionate, there's a free-hand element to it that gives it a roughly hewn look, but it comes from the hand of someone who is fully confident in what he's drawing.  Shading and hatching are used to their utmost effectiveness.  He captures the bleary whiteness of a snow-covered landscape, but exacerbates the dreariness of this dying land and the darkness of its people with shadows and heavy lines.  It's a style of comic illustration we see from Latin cultures past, like Enric Bada Romero (who I'll get to in the near future with some Modesty Blaise coverage) and Paolo Serpieri, and we still see in creators like Mike Deodato Jr., Sal Velluto.  It's not as popular a style anymore as the influences on artists have gone international, as well, artist are striving to define their own sensibilities more by straying away from anything deemed too traditional.  But looking at the black and white art of Zaffino, and we could stand to do with more art like this in our modern comics.

This collection reprints the original mini-series, and the 2-part follow-up, Wintersea, that was never before published (though originally intended for Marvel's Epic line before it was dissolved), so it's a special treat.  I'm always happy to see hard work that was once shelved come to light.  Zaffino's style between the first and second parts changed somewhat noticeably, becoming a little looser, more free-form in the second but at times even more powerful than previously.   The most amazing element of Zaffino's work is the thought he put into the details, particularly the character's wardrobes.  There's a plantation that exists in a half-buried Texas stadium (the Houston Astrodome I'm guessing), and all the guards are decked out in remnant baseball gear.  It's wonderful little touches like these that really sell the reality.

Overall, a beautiful piece of work which I wished I had picked up sooner, but am happy to have now.  A third part to the trilogy was planned but, as Zaffino sadly passed away in '02 at a young 42 years of age, Dixon doesn't feel right continuing on without his stellar collaborator.  I think that's the right choice, Chuck.

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