Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: Sing No Evil

I was going to write a review about Corto Maltese, because there are two new editions out – specifically, I was going to tell you how much better the large format, black-and-white edition is than the smaller, color edition — but then I realized I was starting a habit of reviewing comics that really don't need it. Instead, I want to talk about Sing No Evil, by JP Ahonen and KP Alare.

In a way, this book needs no review either, because it's so accomplished. But it's from Finland, and it's not about superheroes, so people may not have heard of it. Sing No Evil is about a progressive metal band. Aksel is their lead singer; he writes trailblazing music, but he also has crippling stage fright that makes him stutter.

The line-work is incredibly smooth and assured. Both the writer and the artist have been working in comics for years. The style is cartoony enough to show evocative facial expressions, but realistic enough to render a believable urban landscape. It all works together seamlessly. The characters can be desperate, neurotic or sexy, and it makes sense. The strong forms bounce the story along.

The story has fantasy elements in it, but it makes most sense to take in the plot as a slightly exaggerated version of what could happen to any band. Yes, there's a supernatural conflict, but it takes a long time to reveal itself. And, yes, the band's drummer is a bear. But he's really just the archetype of the phlegmatic, non-verbal drummer. Kervinen the bassist is the ultimate low-key, mellow bassist. Mostly, the story is about these characters – and Lily the artsy keyboardist, and poor Aksel, and new guy Aydin – trying to make music that will rock you. Aksel has notes in his head that he's trying to capture, and what musician hasn't had the feeling that such elusive notes might have mystical power?

The day-to-day scenes tend to have a slightly muted, amber quality. But when the music is playing, the panels skew, the colors turn to bright greens and reds, and the compositions become hugely dramatic. The artist makes you feel like you're in a club in front of a huge amp. It's a difficult thing to do (I remember Terry Moore's difficult attempts to work music into his comics), but Ahonen and Alare make it work beautifully.

If you want to understand how a comic can blow you away like a power chord turned to eleven, pick up this book.

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