Chiaroscuro #1-7

By Troy Little
24 pages, black and white
Published by Meanwhile Studios

Some people wear their influences on their sleeves. Early work by Bryan Hitch, for instance, showed off a lot of influence from Alan Davis. The big question ultimately becomes, will the creator find their own voice? It’s a question I found myself wondering when I first encountered Troy Little’s work on Chiaroscuro; as the series progressed, would the book move beyond an extremely skillful Dave Sim pastiche?

Steve is a struggling artist, in more ways than one. He’s got no source of income, no source of creative inspiration to get him painting again, and very few friends. If that’s all that was going on in his life, it would probably be survivable. But there’s the one night stand he can’t stop thinking about, her creepy sister that may or may not have actually appeared to him, and the two men who are coming to Steve’s apartment claiming that he’s the earlier resident and trying to extract some sort of information from him. No, Steve’s life is anything but easy.

Little’s pace in Chiaroscuro is, at a casual glance, pretty slow-moving. It’s rather apt, then, that Little has titled his first storyline “Patchwork”, because as each new issue is released, it builds on everything already in place, strengthening the greater whole. Steve’s meandering life never seems to move from point A to point B, but zig-zags to all places in-between. He’s an interesting character because he doesn’t always do what’s the smart, or even right thing to do. He avoids chances to progress his career, or even to form a new relationship. The fear of success seems to be near-paralyzing for Steve… even as he seems to acknowledge to his best friend Anthony that it’s exactly what he’s doing. It’s a tough sort of character to pull off, but so far Little’s doing an excellent job.

Little’s art in the first couple of issues reminded me so much of Sim’s work on Cerebus that I had double-check the credits page. There are certainly a lot of techniques that Little’s picked up from Sim; a gorgeous level of shading and cross-hatching, lettering that is an artform in and of itself, and the ability to focus on the most unlikely objects on panels or entire pages and still have it look fantastic. As each issue progresses, though, he’s certainly shown himself to have his own style. His characters are appearing more angular and less rounded, for instance, and with each slight iteration they look more and more like Little’s own creations. Little’s backup features in Chiaroscuro also show his versatility, shifting styles from cartoonish teenage antics to a silent, somber style as the story material dictates.

Chiaroscuro is ultimately a rewarding book to be buying as a series; each new piece adds more to the puzzle, and I think Little is doing a great job in making each issue’s story rise and fall in a natural manner that makes you want to see more. There are currently seven issues published, and hopefully Little’s readership will continue to grow so we see more and more. If your local store can’t get the existing issues for you, you can always order them directly from Meanwhile Studios.

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