Independently Well Done highlights completed and/or noteworthy story-arcs published by indie and small press creators.
Written By: Rich Douek
Art By: Brett barkley
Published: January – April 2016 by IDW Publishing
One of the most well known genres in writing, heck in all of storytelling, is fantasy. From Lord of the Rings to Wheel of time, from Kvothe to Drizzt, the fantasy genre has produced some of the most memorable and sought after stories in every generation. It’s no surprise then that comic storytellers delve into that fount of boundless stories. The problem however, is that fantasy is extremely difficult to pull off in comics. Comic readers are predisposed to seeing magnificent feats and superpowers, whether forged by magic or not. Then there’s the hurdle of the visualization aspect in fantasy comics. Often times it can look goofy and far less grand than say a movie, or what a reader delving into a novel might visualize. All in all, fantasy is difficult to pull off in comics. Then of course there’s a series like Gutter Magic, by Rich Douek and Brett Barkley, published by IDW, that takes everything I just said and does it so well, so expertly, that by the end of the series I wanted this to be a monthly book very badly.
So, what makes Gutter Magic so great? How is it an exception to the rules that say fantasy is difficult to pull off in comics? Well, for starters, it doesn’t try too hard, and I mean that in the best way possible. It isn’t trying to be a big blockbuster film adaptation, or competitor. It isn’t packed with outlandish armor, and action scenes that work for novels and movies but not for comics. It knows its storytelling medium, and works all the things that make comics great, and it does this expertly.
Instead of trying to capture magic in a way wherein motion is needed, or at least needs to be visualized in the mind of the reader, it simply captures those moments in time when things are at their best. This is the first rule of comic storytelling, capture the best moment in time that visualizes what you’re trying to show. During a sword fight scene, we aren’t given all the dodging and parries, but instead the clashing and force is shown. Magic is blowup into grandeur, or held back in the most subtle ways. If I were to boil down why Gutter Magic does fantasy so well, I’d say that it captures the perfect elements of fantasy as they need to be captured, panel by panel. The work Brett Barkley does in this book is easily the best anyone could do for Douek’s story. He seems to understand the pitfalls of this genre and navigates them perfectly. He brings all the action, magic, and fantasy you need for the genre, but condenses it down into the panel by panel medium flawlessly.
Now, that’s all well and good, but if the story is lacking, all the phenomenal visualizations in the world won’t do anything. Yet, once again, where others have failed, Douek exceeds. This story is highly compelling, impactful in every issue, and moves the characters and plot along in a gripping way, each and every book. I looked forward to this comic every time I finished the latest issue. I genuinely didn’t want this series to end, it was that good. I mean c’mon, we have rune revolvers shooting magic bullets, dragon riding, dark shadow magic, and even machines and gizmos that run specifically off of magic…who doesn’t want ALL of those things?
Our story picks up as we follow Cinder Byrnes (that name, I’m sorry but that name is freaking AWESOME) who can’t actually do magic. Instead, he is one of the many people who live in the shadows of those who wield magic. The wizards and sorceresses of this world live within the magical towers of the world, lording over the commoners who must scrape together whatever they can to live. As the book describes it, “the vast majority ekes out a meager life in the crumbs thrown down from above.” Occasionally, someone comes across a meager charm or talisman, but it’s usually nothing but a throwaway from the mages above. These scraps of magic for which the commoners cling and fight are known by the mages and wizards as nothing more than Gutter Magic.
Our boy Cinder genuinely hates the wizards and mages of the world. As one would do, at least one who lives in a world full of magic, specifically magic that Cinder can’t use, he spends his time sneaking into the wizarding world to steal and plunder anything he can get his hands on. One such item he’s tracking down are fragments of a certain spell. As you might imagine, tracking down these fragments leads him on quite the expedition, and ends up leaving him in a predicament that changes his life…well…forever.
At the end of the day, it’s my opinion that this is one of the best magic/fantasy series I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The story felt original, the characters were absolutely compelling, the plot twists and turns had me flipping pages like a crazy person, and the end of the story left me satisfied and wanting more. I also want to add that this series was the first of its kind. This book broke into the top 300 sales numbers in January, thus marking it as the first Comics Experience title to do so since their partnership in 2014. it deserves every single sale it got, and honestly 10x more. It was a phenomenal book, and it’s my hope to see more, but if not, it’s more than worth a read, especially since the trade hit shelves about a month ago. I recommend it to anyone and everyone looking for a comic that has anything to do with fantasy or magic…it’s easily one of the best.