The Telegraph is unique in Charlottesville for its wide selection of zines, indie comics, and small press books. Among these are several works by local artists, including a short comic by the young artist Francesca Rowan titled Alencia.
This zine-style stapled booklet contains a short sword-and-sorcery story about a young heroine who uses her skills in magic and fighting to vanquish undead forces. The story is simple and clear, and her character begins to develop in interesting ways by the end of the seventeen pages.
Rowan’s draftsmanship has stronger and weaker moments throughout the story. Her drawings are simple and are influenced by some of the naïveté art styles which permeate indie comics as well as contemporary illustration. The goal of this drawing approach is to reach for emotive clarity rather than representational clarity, which suits the art of storytelling. Some of Rowan’s drawings are confident with clean marks which elegantly depict motions and actions. On page twelve (spoiler alert) the first panel depicts the heroine lopping off the head of a desiccated undead lady-creature. This drawing in particular fantastically captures a slice of time. The image is reminiscent of the graphic stylized drawings of Mike Mignola. Some of Rowan’s drawings, however, are less confident, and revert to generic depictions of faces and objects. This seems to happen most often when Rowan is describing intricate facial expressions or larger environments. In general, she seems most comfortable rendering monsters and small atmospheric moments.
The storytelling, however, is very interesting and well thought out. She leads the viewer through each moment of the story effortlessly. Rowan shows us around each scene using shifting aspects to build suspense as the undead creep from their graves. The drawings and panel compositions direct the viewers to each important moment as it happens, without relying on narration or predictably consistent jumps in time. One of the most fantastic aspects of comics and visual storytelling is that when done well, the craft becomes invisible.
The writing in Alencia reads a little campy. It fits so perfectly and absolutely in the fantasy genre. The dialogue is functional and economic except for an occasional arbitrary exclamation. It seems that the story is designed in an episodic manner. Rowan introduces conflicts which are not resolved and gives small glimpses of characters, like Alencia’s talking cat companion, which we immediately want to know more about. These elements create the beginning of what I imagine could be a fairly interesting story arc. Even the subtitle, “A Noble Deed – First Story,” suggests additional chapters to follow.
Alencia is not a masterpiece, but the work is lighthearted and fun to read. There is no mention of when future stories or chapters will be released, however this sort of work only gets better the longer an artist pursues it. I look forward to reading future installments.
-Aaron Miller and Rose Guterbock