Not long ago we talked about horror and not so long after, Asylum, a four-volume spooky epic from its sole creator Gabriel Moore Topazio, hit the Nanits screen. It’s time to check it out!
Right from the start, it needs to be said that the art leaves a lot to be desired. But! There’s much more to comics and definitely much more to this comics, so let’s dive into this head-on and get it out of the way.
The linework is kind of wooden and even though is strikes to be realistic, it fails to convey the position of objects and makes it harder for the reader to get a good grip of the space. That is not always a bad thing. Our main protagonist Evie wakes up disoriented and memory-less right on the first page and we get to feel some of that confusion through the panel composition. The visual language of the gestures is often repetitive and hard to understand. Again, difficult to decide whether that works for or against the story. The parallax scrolling turns out to work in the favor of the comprehensibility, as the moving parts give the panels a nice dynamic order.
Gabriel admits that drawing is not his strongest virtue: ‘I was a writer first and taught myself to draw in order to tell this story, so I am more confident in my writing. But I am always trying to learn more and improve both. I think you can see the improvement as the series goes on.’
It’s interesting to see where the creative process can push the author as telling the story you want to share is a strong motivation. It needs to be said that a good writer must know well how the actual process of drawing comics works with painstaking detail. This will make them a better writer (as they will have a better idea of what can be shown instead of told) and also a better colleague to create with (as they won’t ask the artist to do the impossible).
‘I am a lot more confident in my art skills now than when I began the series. My passion is storytelling and especially visual storytelling,’ says Gabriel. Comics is a medium that asks for more than one skill after all: ‘I'm passionate about the art and the writing coming together.’
When the story steps in, there’s suddenly a lot more positive to say about Asylum. Right of the bet, the character design produces some genuinely interesting visuals. The heroine, Evie, feels the most real out all the characters and she is easily recognizable. Props to her costume! I appreciate the way how she drags the long sleeves of her white jacket behind her. Some good designs can be found especially with the characters of The Family, all in white and with visible face tattoos.
The divide between the Family and the rest of the inhabitants of a mysterious universe is the core of the story. Evie soon finds out she is part of this dangerous group but since she discovers her healing powers, it takes her character to a different direction than the rest of her relatives usually do. She remembers nothing, so her bound with Taran, a rogue fighter whose life she saved, becomes extra important. Together they are on the mission to figure out what’s happening, find out what the Family even wants and maybe even build foundations for a revolution.
The visual language of the story still somewhat suffers, but the dialogues are informative enough. Being able to express visually is what makes intriguing characters and a world design with a sense of tangibility. Each story deserves a unique style after all. When you have a burning sensation to tell your story, money can get in the way of your project. Was there ever an artist to take place in the making of Asylum?
‘I am always looking for artists to collaborate with, and I have collaborated with artists for short comics in anthologies. But paying an artist to illustrate an ongoing series like "Asylum" would be a struggle for me.’ explains Gabriel. And even though the art hinders it a bit, the story overall is really good and it manages to keep the reader’s attention.
‘I wanted to create something that is unlike anything before, so there are a lot of different inspirations that go into this story. One of my biggest inspirations is The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, I love the gothic tone and dark fantasy of that series and the way he weaves together folklore, religion, superheroes and his own mythology.’ says Gabriel.
Starting out having the main character and the reader on the same level of knowledge is an old trick that works every time. You get to experience the world and all its secrets feel natural because there’s no redundant dialogue between people who should know this or that.
Instead, the audience gets pieces of information here and there, but rarely the full story. The classic detective mystery is one of the most popular genres for this very reason, it’s like getting puzzle-pieces without knowing the whole picture. The same comes in play with amnesia-related stories, as the character is finding out clues, the reader can play detective. It is very satisfying from readers standpoint if they can figure out the story just a few moments before the protagonist does. If it’s too soon, it’s boring, if it’s too late, it’s usually irreprehensible.
There are many nuanced themes in Asylum, the most prominent being the struggle of a divided society. Where does the interest in cultural and economic divide come from?
‘I've always been inspired by stories about scrappy rebels fighting against something bigger than them. Star Wars, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse and She-Ra were some of my early favorites, and all of them center around heroes fighting to topple a corrupt government.’ explains Gabriel. ‘Religion and mythology have also always been fascinating to me and when you put all of that together, issues like cultural and economic divide naturally arise. I wanted this story to be complex and mature. I felt they would logically be a part of that world. I like that Asylum deals with many themes that run on a slow burn, layering in elements and information as the characters explore the world. Above everything I want the audience to care about the characters, and through them get invested in the social disparity of the world.’
For those readers who are here to appreciate art more than the story, Asylum might feel alienating. But thanks to the intriguing plot-lines, you will get an interesting ride of mystery and adventure. And that’s worth giving a try!
Author: Štěpánka Jislová
Štěpánka Jislová is a Czech Illustrator and Comics artist. Born in 1992, she resides in Prague and apart from numerous illustrated books and two stand-alone graphic novels, she enjoys doing tattoo and cloths designs, teaches, writes and gives talks and presentations. She participated in the comics symposium The Superheroes of Eastern Bloc (2015) and was awarded a prestigious Getting to know Europe grant at Wilkinson College, CA. She’s a co-founder of the Czech branch of Laydeez do Comics. Main focus of her work is storytelling via symbolism and archetypes, which she explores through carefully crafted compositions and precise line-work.