By Dustin Cabeal
We like to pretend that when it comes to entertainment we either like it or we don’t. That everything is 50/50 and so statements like, “I knew I would either love or hate this by looking at it” sound dumb. In reality, when you read so many comics you find that these 50/50 moments are actually not as common as they seem. That the grey area in which you like something for the story and wish the art was better is more common than I loved it or I hated it. I knew from the moment I saw Tongues that I would probably love it from the get go and that only a bad story could change that for me. It was a 50/50 moment in which my tastes said, “Fuck yeah” and my reviewer side said, “Let’s wait and see.”
As strange as this statement will be, Tongues has an amazing birthing scene. No, it’s not a woman giving birth and just captured in a wonderfully tender moment, but rather it’s a visual metaphor of just that. There’s narration accompanying it that describes what I can only imagine giving birth to be like, and it’s wonderful. It’s poetic, abstract and yet perfect in the way it's mapped out.
This strange, wonderful scene introduces us to several of the main characters though how they connect and fit together isn’t revealed. A lot of the story isn’t revealed or something we can understand. There’s a falcon, maybe an eagle that’s smarter than the average animal that speaks with a creature that is likely godlike. A young girl that’s been asked by her unknown sister to save the world and a man wandering the desert with no food and no chance of survival until a military convoy stops for him. There are seemingly normal elements that are unnatural in that they’re presented together and surrounded in mystery. A mystery that leaves you perplexed in a wonderful way.
The writing is beautiful. The characters are all very distinct and full of personality when they speak. I recently read another comic in which everyone that spoke had zero personality, and this is the complete opposite. It’s not slammed down your throat or anything like that, but the writing is crafted in such a way that everyone is revealed to the reader. It’s exactly what a comic should do, especially one that has a mystery and strange creatures that may or may not be Gods.
What puts the story together and makes it all work is the artwork, not just the line work and character designs, but the layouts and the overall design of the pages. The panels are never just squares, but rather trapezoids and other geometrical shapes that I don’t care to force myself to remember because I read comics in class instead of learning math. It guides the eyes though and gives a greater sense of movement between the panels. Sometimes there are several actions to the same panel like a character walking around to the other side of a car. It works brilliantly and shows that gutters aren’t the law of the land, but rather masterful visual storytelling can accomplish anything.
The coloring is one of the strongest aspects of the story. It’s flat without excessive shading which plays to the strength of the extremely detailed line work. If it were colored any other way it would look blown out or worse, it would ruin the details by covering too much. It’s visually pleasing no matter how you cut it.
Lettering is always the unspoken hero of comics since without lettering we wouldn’t be able to read the comic. Still, it’s not like you can describe fonts every time you review, so I save it for when the lettering truly stands out to me. If it doesn’t sway me one way or the other than congrats, you did your job, and it’s going to be typically thankless. All of this is to say that the hand-written lettering for Tongues adds a style to the story and it’s a style I like. My non-reviewer side is totally biased for lettering like this because it always gets a free pass because I just enjoy it. It's aesthetically pleasing to me sure, but it’s also a great fit for Tongues.
If you can’t tell the coin landed heads up, and I love the hell out of this book. It’s one of the best things I’ve read all year, and that’s sadly a very short list compared to the same time last year. The mystery is intriguing, but not so confusing that I want to check out mentally. The art is beautiful, and the storytelling, in general, is wonderful both with the writing and the visuals. Will it appeal to everyone? Probably not, but it’s the type of comic I wish I would see more of on the market rather than the same recycled genres and plotlines over and over again. Tongues is simply amazing.
Creator: Anders Nilsen