Review – Gutter Magic #1 (of 4) (IDW Publishing)

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Click to enlarge.

Publisher: IDW Publishing/Comics Experience
Writer: Rich Douek
Artist: Brett Barkley
Release Date: 13th January, 2016

In 2010, Rich Douek took an introduction to writing class and came out that with a five-page script called Gutter Magic. Since then, while learning the ropes with various self-published short stories given out at Cons, he has been developing Gutter Magic into the 4-part mini-series that IDW is now publishing.

Gutter Magic takes place in world approximately 100 years after WWII, a world where magic and technology exist side by side. It’s a story about Cinder, heir to a magical dynasty, and yet the only member of this family without the gift of magic. His solution? To track down a spell that will purportedly give him the ability to use magic. Joining him in this self-appointed quest is his Goblin sidekick Blacktooth. Our hero’s swindle and steal their way through NYC collecting the pieces of the spell that will let Cinder fulfill his chosen crusade. A quest that had the unfortunate consequence of making Cinder and his friend a lot of enemies.

Having had five years to develop Gutter Magic is evident by such a complete sense of the world in which this story is set. I can pick up on so many inspirations, from traditional Fantasy Roleplay, Gothic Steampunk, and Indiana Jones to perhaps even some more modern takes on the genre such as Lost Girl and The Rivers Of London series. Whatever the inspirations Rich has chosen, he’s blended them into a resonant universe in which to set his story.

The main characters fall into traditional archetypes, such as the rogue adventurer (Cinder), the down to earth, practical fixer (Blacktooth), and the (assumed) feared powerful underworld queen ‘The Morgue.’ We’re treated to some delicious secondary cast members such as Shiver, head enforcer to The Morgue, and the Rat-catcher and his network of spies (his intro seemed too significant for me to be a throw away character).

The pencils and inks of Brett Barkley are very present on the page. Each panel holds an abundance of detail and, rather going for block shadowing, Brett had elected to cross-hatch all the shading. This technique is used well to bring out the details of the world. It may also be a tip-of-the-hat to the style of ink drawings found in novels at the turn of the century (think of Tolkein’s illustrations in the Middle Earth books as the most recent example I can recall), this style of drawing works well in the Steampunk-like reality of this world. It really brings the various fantasy race features out, from Blacktooths ears to the fantastic grin of the Imp informant.

Some of the colour work is also quite subtly clever. Gutter Magic is a clear reference to technology in this environ, and Jules Rivera has been quite canny in representing this. Gun shots are slightly hued blues to look like a weak magical discharge against when actual magic is cast in the story. Those colours are bright, full on, and saturated. It’s such a small thing, but it really adds to the sense that this is a complete story.

Gutter Magic is a skilfully crafted labour of love for Rich Douek. It looks to be a good old fashioned seat-of-your-pants adventure series set in a ridiculously well thought out locale. The world in which we’re introduced has moved on from technology to magic, but the answer to Cinders quest seems to point back to the technological past to complete his magical future (this will make a lot more sense once you’ve read issue one). The execution of the narrative and art are fitting to the themes of the story and, if I’m going to be honest, are really good fun. This is entertaining stuff.

Rating: 4/5.

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The writer of this piece was: Andrew McGlinn
Andrew Tweets from @Jockdoom.

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