More like Dickens than Disney, Porcelain is a wonderfully structured, hard to resist fantasy tale.
The opener of Porcelain shows a group of children facing a large gate, as the oldest in the gang berates them with the line, “This is a bad idea.” However, seeing what magic lies behind the gates of this delightful 96-page OGN, reading Porcelain is a very good idea indeed, as writer Benjamin Read and artist Chris Wildgoose have crafted a restrained, mature story.
A young urchin known only as Child is loitering outside of a mansion’s gate with her friends, when she is dared to climb it. Once inside, she finds a world she is unaccustomed to. The sole resident is a middle-aged, stout man with an impressive beard and even more impressive tinkering skills. Lonely, he befriends her and they agree that he will be known as her uncle. The oddly matched pair get to know one another, although his life is more immediately transparent than hers. She learns that he is the only man who can make porcelain constructs, they decide on the day of her birthday, and he teaches her to write the runes on the porcelain bodies which give them their “life” giving qualities. Behind the extravagant surface of her new lifestyle however is a darkness. Her new uncle doesn’t want her homeless friends visiting her, the porcelain is constructed of corpses’ bones, and there is a room in his workshop which she is prohibited from entering.
One night, he must leave the mansion to fulfill a social obligation, leading the child’s curiosity to get the better of her, and bringing a foreseeable choice and a ghastly revelation that sours the relationship.
The ending is quite fitting however, and never giving the two main characters actual names, adds a slightly detached tone to the whole story, as does the centuries old time period. Mostly being set within the confines of the stately manor also reaffirms the relationship between the poor girl and rich creator, as the engine that drives the engrossing narrative.
Wildgoose knows how to frame each page, and uses silent scenes to great effect. Beyond fitting in with the occasional snowy, and silent setting, his depiction of motion and the passage of time is splendid. In particular, early in the book, there is a page in which Child scales a wall, and Wildgoose uses seven different figures on the one panel to show her moving across the large branches and down the tree to the ground. It’s the kind of thing we’ve seen before, particularly when Batman or Spider-Man are swinging through cityscapes, but here it takes on such a real delicacy that it looks like one of those classic rotoscoped animated features.
That attention to detail and reality amongst the fantasy pervades every page and gives the fantastic tale a grounded believability, and even empathy. The way clothes fall on the characters, the way their hair flows; it helps tremendously to construct a visual charm equal to the tale being told.
There are no blank backgrounds or skimped details on these pages, and the costumes, hairstyles, and architecture are befitting of the Victorian era. Porcelain is a very pretty book.
It’s well-paced and never dull, and is just the right length. In fact, I’d be curious to see a sequel.
Benjamin Read (W), Chris Wildgoose (A), Andre May (C) • Improper Books, $19.99, July 2013.