Publisher: BOOM! Studios (BOOM! Box imprint)
Writer: John Allison
Artist: Christine Larsen
Colourist: Sarah Stern
Letterer: Jim Campbell.
Release Date: 13th June 2018
If you haven’t heard of John Allison before, his previous offerings like Giant Days or Bad Machinery are known for incredibly well realised characters and some of the strongest, most interconnected relationships going. And if you’re already an Allison fan like myself looking for more of that trademark quality, let me put your mind at ease by telling you that it’s all here in By Night, his latest sure-to-be-a-hit series.
This first tells the story of Jane, who, despite wanting to be an aspiring documentarian, is still in her home town, cleaning up chemistry equipment as a job after finishing her chemistry major. But when her old friend Heather, an urban explorer and free spirit, comes back into her life after all these years, a mystery involving a now abandoned industrial building leads them into an adventure that will change them forever. And, hopefully, lead to some documenting along the way…
Just from the synopsis, you can already see where that Allison shine comes through. College graduates, separation and old relationships, the parts of you that you try to hide, ambition, drive and the feeling of going no-where with so many choices before you are all perfect staples of his work that are delivered here with the high standard we should come to expect by now. The characters immediately feel real, lived in and relatable. Like people you know, or even parts you see reflected in yourself. The dialogue flows naturally and personas, quirks and ticks are established easily.
However, if there’s something new to talk about with this new addition to his line-up of books, it’s the incorporation of mystery into both the story itself and the way we experience it. Obviously the core drive is the mystery I hinted at above, but there’s another undercurrent of mystery when it comes to these characters. We’re thrown into the world, with these characters and their expansive history, but we’re deliberately left in the dark about a lot of it.
We get to know Jane and Heather in this issue, but what led them here, what happened in their past and their motivations and interactions with other characters in present day is never revealed. I think uncovering that, and how it works with the themes already present within the book, is going to provide a real treat for those who love character-heavy books. And with By Night confirmed as a 12 issue series, we’ve definitely got a lot of time for all the mysteries present to unfold, leaving this first issue as a nice little appetiser.
As always with an Allison book though, the art can never be understated. Christine Larsen comes on board here to deliver top tier cartooning in every sense of the word (if you haven’t checked out what she’s done with her series, Microcosmics, you owe it to yourself!) While reminiscent of greats like Bryan Lee O’Malley, Lissa Treiman and John Allison himself, her own vision and style come shining through here.
Strong, pronounced character designs and expressions for the main core of the book are intercut with different styles and framing for intertextual moments or moments in time. It’s beautiful. It also doesn’t hurt that the style shifts when things get ‘otherworldly’, providing possibly the finest treat of this issue, with colourist Sarah Stern perfectly matching the change with an insane palette.
These moments aside, Stern perfectly matches the tone and detail of the series throughout, from distinct character traits to every style change, to the incredible mood that’s given to a book called “By Night”. It’s also particularly worth mentioning her incredible understanding of lighting, shadows and the absence and contrast of black in every scene, which helps to pull the book together to give it an aesthetic like nothing else on the shelves.
It’s a classic first issue that relies heavily on its setup, but Allison’s penchant for well-crafted characters, strong thematic ties and eye for illustrious art talent makes this issue an easy purchase. The unique and otherworldly mystery, as well as the mystery of the characters themselves, makes this not only another Allison hit, but something new, exciting and inevitably rewarding for anyone looking for a new series to immerse themselves in.
The writer of this piece was: Connor Stephens
Connor Tweets from @diddlesMVP