Thursday, January 03, 2008

Bizenghast, Vol. 4

I got a chance to read the latest volume of Bizenghast on my lunch hour today. It continues the story of Dinah and Vincent, and how they're helping to collect lost souls in the unusual town of Bizenghast.

This volume is curious in that it's very dependent on having read the previous volumes. I seem to recall the first three being more friendly to first-time readers, but I got the sense here that things would be very confusing if readers were unfamiliar with what's gone on before. The characters are all identified and the basic plot summary is present for newcomers, but the transitions between worlds seems to me as decidedly vague here and could be off-putting. That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, given that this is designed as a finite series, but it's worth observing for folks who may wish to try the story but can't readily find the earlier volumes. For those of us reading since Book 1, it is nice to speed along through what could be the tedium of the characters getting a new assignment each night.

The plot of this volume was a little weak, by comparison to the others, largely because of the seemingly sudden introduction of Dinah's and Vincent's personal lives. While there were references earlier on to their families, there was no real mention of their schooling or social circles. Dinah finding schoolyard friends here, some of whom were evidently relatively close to her, and other schoolmates inquiring about Vincent seemed somewhat out of place. While the majority of the story is still focused on Dinah's and Vincent's helping lost souls, the introductions of their peers struck me as something of a course-change in the book's direction.

On the positive end of plot developments, we're given a greater sense of the real threat that Dinah and Vincent are facing on a nearly nightly basis. Their tasks are no longer easily achievable, but provide a true danger to their very lives. This is, of course, a welcome addition as the plot is no longer quite as predictable. There's also some more significant development in the backstory of the town itself and one it's early inhabitants: Addie Clark.

The strength of the book is still largely in LeGrow's illustrations. She spends a great deal of time with the character's clothing, designing a new outfit for almost every scene, and the details in her architecture are striking as well. Her background in costume design is plainly evident and, for me at least, quite a refreshing change from "typical" comic illustrators.

On an interesting side note, I had the book lying out the other night during band practice. The wife of the guitarist we were auditioning noticed it and said, "That looks like something one of my kids reads." I responded with, "Yeah, those're mostly popular with 14-year-old girls, but I dig this series too." She acted surprised, which I later gathered was because one of her kids is indeed a 14-year-old girl.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year 2008!

I stumbled across your FFPlaze site just minutes ago and read the details about it still being kept on (if not updated) for research etc. I love that you are willing to do that. I collect no comics except the FF and basically for the same reason you point out in your explanation page.

Im bookmarking this blog and will read it when I can.

FF4ever
George K
Canada

Marionette said...

I'm surprised you consider the illustration this series' greatest strength. I've only read the first volume, so it may have improved, but I found the art very weak.

While there's a lot of variety in design, and some of the costumes are lavish, the abundance of detail is used to disguise the lack of basic drawing skill. It's not remotely accurate enough to be considered realistic, but far too fussy and detailed to be considered cartoony. Every so often there will be an image that shows some effort has gone into making it accurate, but this simply shows up how poor the rest of it is. The inking is also poor, with little to no variation, causing all the shapes to run together into a spidery scribble in the more detailed images.

But the real problem I had with the first volume is that it reads like a video game being played by someone else. Our heroes have a series of puzzles; when they have completed a certain number, they get a power up and start new puzzles. Everything beyond this is barely sketched in, mere window dressing for the adventure.

I wanted to like this, but although it has a lot to like in it, it is nowhere near professional quality in either writing or art.

Sean Kleefeld said...

Admittedly, LeGrow's drawing skills themselves aren't on par with any of a number of notable comic book artists. Indeed, I noted several instances in Vol. 4 where her renderings looked rushed and almost sloppy in places.

But I chose the word "illustration" deliberately, over "drawing" or "linework" or whatever. Even if the drawings aren't technically accurate, they have a style that conveys the attitude of the story. It's much like looking at fashion design drawings -- they, too, are often technically inaccurate with "far too fussy and detailed" linework, but they convey an impression of the end work that relies more heavily on emotion and feeling than intellect.

That's what I'm responding to in Bizenghast.

And, hey, George K -- thanks for stopping by. I always appreciate hearing from folks who are willing to slog through something I write.