Tension: Only Skin #5

Posted by on April 21st, 2010 at 5:43 AM

Rob reviews the fifth issue of Sean Ford’s minicomics series, ONLY SKIN.

Sean Ford’s creepy small-town mystery had been ambling along at an amiable pace during its first four issues.  He slowly introduced us to its cast of characters and established its central mystery: why are people disappearing in a nearby forest?  The bits of information provided in these issues only raised more questions, like what mauled a deer and why large stretches of the forest suddenly gave way to charred and broken trees.  A good bit of interpersonal drama was also introduced, which I’d prefer to examine when the series is collected.

Instead, I’d like to talk about the choices Ford has made all along as a storyteller and how they paid off in this issue. Let’s start with the page size: 8 x 10.5″.  Ford worked big from the very beginning, initially to give a sense of how small the town he introduced was in context with the vast desert, hills and scrublands that surrounded it.  In terms of sheer mark-making, Ford’s smudgy blacks of the angry sky and ominous hills are especially striking against the off-white paper.  Keeping with that expressionist tone, the charred trees are essentially just thick, black vertical lines set off against the horizontal lines of the clouds.

This effect creates a thick, suffocating sort of cross-hatching, an ominous gloom surrounding the characters as they try to negotiate the increasingly-deadly events of the story.  In every issue, Ford juxtaposed the small-town drama with the sometimes absurd image of a Pac Man-style ghost that taunted the younger brother of the series’ main protagonist.  That bit of absurdity took a rather dramatic turn at the end of this issue, as more “ghosts” were introduced in a stunning double-page splash.

An even more chilling scene came when the younger brother (Clay) followed a friend of his deeper into the forest.  The reader was made to slowly realize that his friend was no longer quite what he seemed, and may be leading Clay into greater danger.  Ford gets this across solely through a series of pages depicting the characters running until they reach a hollowed-out tree trunk.  In a comic that was basically a series of still (almost static) moments strung together, seeing this much motion on the page brought home to the reader that something important was going on here.  Once again, working big works to Ford’s advantage, allowing him to depict the characters moving in space against that desolate background, creating a sense of dread in what was otherwise an innocent scene.

The one problem with the series is in his figure-work.  That thick line he prefers makes his characters appear a bit leaden at times, and there’s a sameness in some of the faces that he draws.  That would be fine if he used a finer line, but Ford seems uncomfortable with clear-line figures against his thick backgrounds.  That’s especially true of his female characters.  There’s nothing wrong with the way he portrays their expressiveness, but the sameness of two key female leads led to some confusion when he flashed back and then forward again.  ONLY SKIN is clearly headed into its late stages as a series, and I’m eager to see how Ford will resolve the tension between small-town politics, horror and the supernatural.

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