10 YEARS OF THE BF SIX TO WATCH! Sometimes when drawing up the list of names for our annual Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ programme artists are selected for the raw potential inherent in their blossoming styles. Very occasionally, though, a creator comes to us with work that feels fully-formed from the start. It’s a rare event indeed but, when Tinglin Liu submitted her debut comic The Masque of the Red Death for review at the end of last year, it was immediately obvious that her practice had already skipped the “learning on the job” part of the process and was already confident and assured in presentation and application. It’s work that looks like it could have come from an established veteran of decades standing rather than someone producing her first graphic novella.
The Masque of the Red Death takes the prose of Edgar Allan Poe’s original and sees it re-imagined in all its gothic splendour through Liu’s eyes. One of Poe’s more celebrated stories, it recounts how Prince Prospero attempts to avoid a deadly plague sweeping the land by sequestering himself and hundreds of nobles within the confines of his walled abbey. Therein they attempt to sit out the pestilence while entertaining themselves with a mass costumed ball. But death may have other plans for them…
Liu’s layouts are just so imaginative in their visual framing of Poe’s prose and ideas. An early shot of the Red Death as an anthropomorphised yet all-encompassing horror for example, lurking and observing. A metaphorical force of nature, its presence distorting and warping its environment as it sweeps across its confines. Liu’s grey-toned artwork creates a world that is both eerie and oppressive; vast and sprawling, and yet conversely and almost contradictorily, claustrophobic and intense. A sense of unforgiving malevolence soaked into its very fabric.
This is a version of The Masque of the Red Death that also highlights how the original story is as relevant now as it ever was. Forget the pandemic parallels in that regard (although the lockdown aspects do have an obvious topicality), there’s much here that could be interpreted as a most damning indictment of class and privilege, and the story itself being seen as an extended metaphor for the disassembling and deconstruction of both. What Liu achieves is a phenomenal convergence of textual soundbites and visual reimagining to make something that is both faithful to the original and yet also expands on its themes in its translation to another medium. A truly outstanding debut.
Tinglin Liu (Adapted from the work of Edgar Allan Poe) • Self-published, £15.00
Review by Andy Oliver