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Fleen Book Corner: Jellaby

So much to talk about these days, what with the WCCA nominations, and How To Make Webcomics up for pre-order (Hey, Brad and Scott? You might want to put the book up in your stores like Kris and Dave have, ’cause I went looking to give one of you guys money yesterday, and I went with the first one who made it possible) and Ryan North‘s Goldmanesque situation. And that’s before yesterday’s trip to the local comics shop resulted in purcahse of volume 1 of Dirk Tiede’s Paradigm Shift and yesterday’s mail included Dave Roman sending me three (count ’em, three!) Nickleodeon magazine all-comics issues, none of which I’ve had a chance to read yet.

That’s because I’ve been reading and re-reading Jellaby. Want the short version? Kean Soo has put together a book that’s equal parts Owly and Amulet. If that’s not not totally awesome-sounding, I’m sorry — we can’t be friends anymore.

The longer version is that Kean Soo manages a number of things here that would make me inclined to like him a great deal, even without the bond of right-hand rule brotherhood that we share. In contrast to the usual comics convention of putting lots of deep, saturated color on the page (or the screen), Soo has elected to go with a subtle, almost ink-wash approach. That low contrast, far from making the pages hard to read, forces your eye towards the details that he wants you to concentrate on.

Case in point, from the online archives: Portia, our heroine, has a set of blinders on like you wouldn’t believe. Soo could spend eleventy-six panels of exposition telling us this, but instead shows it with an incredibly subtle and intuitive look at her emotional world. So heading down the hallway at school after a talking-to from her teacher, Portia’s entire world is washed out and pale, except for the much bolder window immediately around her. Looking at other people, walking past them, they suddenly come into sharp relief, then fade after she walks about two steps onward. And as beautifully as it works on your screen, it does so even better on the page.

The book just oozes that level of craft — Soo never tells us what he can show, and has taken the challenge of working with an extremely limited color palette and turned it into a strength. Everything in Jellaby is dominated by shades of purple, from motion smears (check out the very solemn head nod here) to seriously creepy dreams; that one basic color can convey so many moods was a happy surprise for me. And when a decidely non-purple color show up, the effect is arresting. Those are some mighty good lookin’ carrots there, Jason. Oh, and did I mention that it’s hilarious? And that Soo conveys emotion in facial expressions better than anyone this side of Tom Beland?

Best of all — Jellaby clocks in at nearly 300 pages, making it almost three times as long as the online (and sadly hiatused) version. Tensions build and release in the story, leading up to a cliffhanger that’s got me counting the minutes to the next installment (which I’m told will also be in 2008, but you never know with printing schedules). If Soo’s editors and publishers are smart, they’ll keep him happy and the rest of us well supplied with our favorite purple whatchamacallit.

I’m sure it’s not a problem when you get into it, and it looks like a great book… but those children are really ugly, aren’t they?

[…] yeah, terrific logic there, Disney-Hyperion. Heckuva job. Bottom line, if you want a copy of this utterly charming book, better grab it now. Those of you that plan on having children some day, get a copy or two now and […]

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