Written by Laini Taylor-Di Bartolo
Art by Jim Di Bartolo
80 pages, black and white
Published by Image Comics

So often in comics, the learning curve is on display for everyone to see. With self-publishing a much easier possibility than in most other mediums, people are able to get their comics out to an audience while sometimes still learning the techniques of their chosen craft. It’s a thought that often crosses my mind when receiving review copies of books by new creators—but it never even entered my mind when reading Laini Taylor-Di Bartolo and Jim Di Bartolo’s The Drowned.

Theophile Finistre has spent the past five years in an insane asylum. In the year 1800, Paris’s mental institutions have little to offer in the way of comfort, especially with Theophile finding himself visited in his cell by mysterious crows every night. Maybe it has something to do with the key around his neck, if only he could remember what it unlocked. The discovery, though, will lead him into places that may make him long for the asylum once more…

Taylor-Di Bartolo’s story for The Drowned is ambitious and far-reaching, but unlike a lot of freshman efforts it succeeds at its aims. The Drowned had me intrigued within a matter of pages, and Taylor-Di Bartolo keeps the story moving at just the right pace to never lose me. She’s got a strong grasp of how to write effective narration, giving the reader just enough information to understand what’s going on in Theophile’s head without overwhelming one in exposition. You’re in the dark as much as Theophile is, and every time both the reader and the protagonist think they know what’s going on, there’s a piece of additional information that changes everything. Good, good stuff.

The art in The Drowned is thankfully up to the same high standards as the writing. Di Bartolo’s art is a beautiful combination of what looks like pencils and ink washes, giving the book a great synthesis of penciled and painted appeal. The visual images that Di Bartolo creates are outstanding, bringing to life Taylor-Di Bartolo’s concepts like sunken cities, seas of crows, or even just 19th century Parisian architecture. There’s a good sense of storytelling on display here as well, with the progression of panels helping really define movement on the page. The drowning scene that’s referred to in the title, for instance, works as strong as it does in part because Di Bartolo is able to draw it with such conviction that you can almost believe you’re looking in on a real event.

The Drowned isn’t just a good first effort, it’s a great first effort that rivals a lot of other seasoned creators’s works. If there’s any justice in terms of high quality equaling sales, this is going to be one of Image’s top-selling books for July. Trust me, you absolutely do not want to let this book slip by you. The Drowned is in the new Previews (for books shipping in July 2004) on page 140. Or, tell your retailer to use order code MAY04 1413.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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