The absolute joy of writing a column like this is that the thrill of discovery and the sense of awe that goes with it are constant companions in my quest to unearth those true gems of the small press. Kate-mia White is a new name to ‘Small Pressganged’ but I have no doubt that the stunningly executed visuals on her shadowy fantasy A Dark Forest – currently undergoing the Kickstarter route for funding for professional printing – are going to quickly propel her to a far, far wider audience.
A Dark Forest is a brooding fairy tale-style narrative with a projected seven-issue run. Set in the 19th century, it tells the haunting story of two sisters – 17-year-old Elizabeth Kathrine Moss and her much younger sibling Grace – who live with their puritanical father in the town of Whitewood, surrounded by an ominously creepy forest.
As Grace grows older, Elizabeth starts to see links and similarities between her and a forbidden childhood toy that served as her imaginary friend, and begins to suspect that there is an eerie link between her sister and the oppressive woodland around them…
This opening issue is an atmospheric teaser that draws the reader into an intriguing mystery that may or may not be supernatural in origin depending on how you interpret the worldview of its narrator Elizabeth. There are hints and clues throughout that, no doubt, will build into the overarching arc as the series progresses but, at this point, it’s White’s gorgeously gothic and intricately rendered artwork that steals the show.
Each panel of A Dark Forest is crammed with detail to the extent that every single image feels like a world unto itself. It’s an elaborate approach that also creates a sensation of overwhelming claustrophobia, poignantly reflecting the plight of lonely Elizabeth who is effectively detached from the rest of existence in the bubble of her own reality.
If there’s one obvious drawback to this first chapter it’s that a further proofread would have removed some distracting spelling mistakes, and the dialogue possibly needs a little more polish in places. But those are negligible observations when considering work this promising. While the Kickstarter looks to gain professional printing for the comic I was rather taken by the tactile feel of the review copy I was sent – a handmade, handbound item whose physicality seemed to feed into the period impression of the comic.
There’s still time to back the Kickstarter which has already met and far exceeded its very modest target. Even if you don’t then I would take heed of the name Kate-mia White in the future because hers is a very special talent indeed…
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You can watch the Kickstarter video for A Dark Forest below.