Masks #1 Review

masks01p1Septagon Studios launched in 2003 with the aim of becoming a company priding itself on diversity and creator freedom. Their output has been minimal but judging by Masks, their quality hasn’t. For fans of Dave McKean (frequent Neil Gaiman collaborator) or film-maker Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) writer/artist Aaron Rintoul’s debut effort with the studio is a class act and bodes well for his future. If he can continue to showcase his unique talents like this, he can’t help but be noticed.

Masks is a 3 issue mini-series that seems tailor made for those whose comic book tastes are a bit less obvious; for readers who prefer films with subtitles and going to art galleries on the weekend. Fanboys who live on a diet of spandex and multi-part epics-beware, Masks isn’t for you. But it should be. I’m a follower of superheroics from Marvel and DC just as much as I am of indie black and white books from smaller publishers. It’s only been the last three years in particular that I discovered the world behind the spandex curtain though, thanks to Craig Thompson’s Blankets, and I continue to be entertained and inspired by what small press publishers bravely create. I’m also glad I can discover hidden gems like this. Despite themes involving murder and abuse, there is no overt adults-only vibe in Masks, although the aforementioned stripper shows some brief nudity. Masks will mainly appeal to mature readers and for regular comic readers looking for a different flavour in their habits.

This is the kind of creative endeavour that can only be told in a comic format. With vague thoughts of the films The Fountain and MirrorMask in the back of my brain after I read this, I realised that pair of arty, meandering films are probably the closest cinematic equivalent. With a focus on fantasy and imagination rather than any linear narrative it’s not soon before you realise the story, as such, isn’t the highlight. This is billed as a photographic poem, and that description fits like a glove. Not that Masks needs any focus other than the gorgeous art. Let me say that again-gorgeous.

At times the photographic elements are obvious, and at others Rintoul’s keen skills as an illustrator are given the spotlight, with a diverse array of collages and pretty pics. His work also exhibits the clean textural quality of Adi Granov, and in a brief strip club flashback it looks like stills from a basic CGI film. The page layouts are simple enough and retain a simple pace.

Rintoul’s strength here clearly lies in his skills as an artist rather than a writer and has wisely put his effort into the latter. There should be more multi-media books like this on the shelves instead of even more flashy pencillers. Our medium has a greater sense of variety than the top sellers each month indicate. Granted, it’s easier to use phot-manipulation when you stories don’t centre on superheroes throwing skyscrapers at each other. What story there is focuses on Sara, and is told from her perspective as she apparently tracks a killer through his victims dreams. This isn’t particularly clear but will presumably become so in the remaining two issues of this mini-series. This introductory ish has minimal exposition, with captions more about building a broad gothic atmosphere rather than leading to a climactic showdown between Sara and the unknown killer. With typical genre shots of owls, clocks and masks the pages flash between rust coloured scenes straight from the set of the latest Saw film, to something out of a brightly lit 19th century masquerade. If you were to grab 3 random pages from this issue you’d swear they were form three different, and very talented, artists. Yet there is a great unity through the twenty two story pages. Septagon have wisely given Rintoul a blank canvas and appear to stand by their mission statement in giving creator’s unlimited freedom to display their wares.

If you’re unsure about giving this series, watch the moody trailer or better yet, download the entire first issue for free at Wowio. Your eyes will thank you for it.

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