LITTLE BIRD #1 / Writer: Darcy Van Poelgeest / Artist: Ian Bertram / Colourist: Matt Hollingsworth / Letterer: Aditya Bidikar / Design: Ben Didier / Publisher: Image Comics / Published Mar 13, 2019
Little Bird #1 feels, initially, like a preserved artifact from an ancient civilization – something timeless and iconic. Everything about this debut issue is measured and considered, even as it takes you on a headlong rush into a weird and fascinating world. The closest comparison I can justifiably draw is to Jodorowsky and Moebius’ masterpiece The Incal, which had a similarly organic feel, similarly meticulous line work, and a similar sense of a vast, rich world just beyond the panel borders.
From the first page, the artwork grabs you – there’s a beautiful roughness to the speech bubbles and dialogue that matches the artwork perfectly, evidence (if any were needed) of letterer Aditya Bidikar’s dedication to his craft. Ian Bertram’s mastery of detail is present in the hundreds of strokes that make up a field of blowing grass and in the delicate roof tiles of a rural village. Matt Hollingsworth does incredible work with the colouring, ranging from the desaturated but relaxing lushness of the Northern landscapes to the garish, almost neon colours that mark the American Empire.
We’re immediately thrown into what seems to be a perilous situation – an impending attack on a tribal community that appears heavily modeled on the Native American Musqueam people name-checked in the foreword. There’s a sense of encroaching white colonization against the rightful owners of this territory, something that ties this to the real world. From these recognizable beginnings, the story unfurls into pulsating, chaotic, beautiful science fiction; it transpires that the United States has been completely dominated by a theocratic dictatorship led by nightmarish, genetically modified beings.
There’s a disgustingly organic texture to the villains of this story – lots of entrails and piles of intestines. It goes without saying that (as the ‘Mature’ label might suggest) this is an extremely violent and bloody comic book, but never crosses the line into shocky, “pornographic” gore. In every instance, the bloodshed is presented matter-of-factly or intended to highlight the depths to which this society has sunk.
Visually, there are some extremely smart decisions at play here. Sound effects are integrated into the artwork, giving them a real weight and presence; they feel like part of the scene rather than being plastered on top of it. In one instance, when a window is smashed (punctuated by an entire panel of breaking glass), the sound effect breaks through the panel borders to match what’s happening. Aditya has confirmed that some of the sound effects were drawn into the art by Ian and others were his work, but both types fit seamlessly into the style of the comic.
There are also several examples where the visual medium of comics is leveraged into carrying storytelling beats – in one instance, Little Bird steals the robotic arm of a guard from under his nose. If you look closely at the panels leading up to that moment, you can see her peeking around a doorframe or protruding into the bottom of a panel as a shadow. On my first read of the page, I didn’t notice these little hints, but they’re a great example of how to progress a story beat without overloading the reader. In another instance, blood and viscera flows behind and around the panels as a subtle guide, drawing your eyes through the quick-cut, staccato rhythm of a bloody battle scene.
In short, Little Bird #1 is a masterpiece – it’s that rare kind of comic that tells a compelling story (with an unexpected twist at the end of the issue which I didn’t see coming), couples it with mesmerizing artwork, and plays with the comics format, using process to deepen and enrich the power of the story. It’s a weird and wonderful journey into chaos, and I’m extremely excited to see how future issues develop.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Chris has been writing comics for a large chunk of his life, but only started making them properly in 2011. He’s worked with chap-hop superstar Professor Elemental on a series of anthology comics as well as writing stories for a number of prestigious small press publications including Futurequake, Aces Weekly and the Psychedelic Journal and creating his own comic book series ‘Brigantia’ with artist Melissa Trender.