A young woman. A promise she made. And the journey she undertakes to honour it.
That’s the simple premise of Chloe Starling’s The Promise, another of the self-published comics I picked up at December’s Catord Comic and Zine Fair when Broken Frontier hosted the event’s communal table. Starling’s fairy tale-style, fantasy comics short lasts just twelve pages but that relatively brief page count is crammed full of both inventive panel layouts and sequential playfulness with the passage of time.
The comic’s heroine is on a quest to aid an ethereal presence within the bell jar she carries with her as we observe her travels through hostile terrains and villages, and meet those she encounters along the way. Panels often dramatically jump timeframes to give a sense of the scope of her wanderings, portraying the range of emotional reactions she has along the way. But will anything prepare her for the final ordeal she must face if she is to keep her promise?
What immediately strikes the reader about The Promise is Starling’s atmospheric use of colour to reflect the mood and thematic tone of the piece. Cool blues are contrasted with vivid oranges to mirror either the ponderous solitude of the questing protagonist or the intensity of her more fraught moments. Page structures too can vary from more traditional six-panel grids to less conventional layouts, where panels sit within other panels or overlap each other to create an idea of place or animated movement.
While Starling’s visual style is otherwise uncomplicated in realisation her sequential storytelling is inventive with a jaunty rhythm in the early parts. The final sequences have a terrifying majesty to them which is neatly counterpointed by scenes of revelation and acceptance. Ultimately, though, it’s Starling’s entrancing use of colour that will stick with the reader the longest.
Review by Andy Oliver