By Royden Lepp
192 pages, two-color
Published by Archaia
One of the things I like about comics these days is that the idea of launching a series of graphic novels isn’t as outlandish as it was a decade ago. Normally you’d have to go for the 32-page comic serialization route, even if the story didn’t necessarily fit that structure. Royden Lepp’s Rust: Visitor in the Field is a prime example of a book that wouldn’t have worked quite so well as a series of single comics. A lot of the book’s power is its slow build and spooling out its future history to the reader; at 192 pages, it’s just the right length for an opening installment.
Lepp’s Rust: Visitor in the Field opens with a sequence set almost half a century before the book’s main setting, as war rages with a mixture of humans and robots through a mixture of forests and World War I’s trenches. From there, though, the book moves to a calmer location; Roman Taylor’s farm, as he recalls the day that a jetpack wearing boy named Jet Jones crashes into his barn, pursued by a massive robot. Not only does that opening flashback serve an important purpose much later in the book, but right off the bat the contrast between the war zone and the farm is hard to mistake. It makes the sudden arrival of Jet Jones and the massive robot a jarring moment, and unlike the flashback to the war, it’s instantly clear that neither of them belong there. It’s a emotional hook that Lepp uses well to draw us into the story, and keep our interest once the memory of Jet’s arrival is over.
Rust: Visitor in the Field is clearly the first in a series; there’s no definitive end point offered up here, but at the same time I still found it satisfying enough even without anything being truly wrapped up. We are given information about Jet (although older readers will have figured it out on their own, as well as savvy younger ones) that serves as a good end point for the volume, and Roman himself comes to a good turning point. It’s a lot of setup, though, and it’s much to Lepp’s credit that it’s engrossing setup. It helps that the world that Lepp has built is so rich; you get an almost instant understanding of its people and history as Lepp guides us through recent events, and it’s because of the larger page count as a graphic novel that Lepp has the room to do so.
Lepp’s art is attractive, with big heads and bushy eyebrows alongside clanky mechanical creations that run on springs and gears as much as their mysterious power cells. It’s a wonderful mix of aesthetics, from steampunk to old war stories to classic science-fiction; gas masks and automatons, marching side-by-side. The two-color look of the book helps the overall feel of the book work; its sepia-tone atmosphere makes it feel almost washed out at times, an old film strip that has just been re-discovered. In many ways, I feel like this is what the animators on computer games like Professor Layton would create if they moved into comics; it’s a beautiful end product.
Rust: Visitor in the Field isn’t Lepp’s first comic, but it is certainly his highest-profile one by a long shot. It’s a great debut for his new series; the characters are enchanting and the overall look and feel of the world will draw you in and make you want more. Fortunately for all of us, the sequel (Rust: Secrets of the Cell) is already in the works and tentatively scheduled for 2012. Even before I read the preview pages included here, I knew that I would definitely be on board for more. This is good stuff, there’s no doubt about it.