Story: Ben Michael Byrne
Art: Bryan Coyle, Mladen Luketin, Jack West-Oram, Dave Snell, Ben Michael Byrne
FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, JUDGE THIS BOOK BY ITS COVER
Creator and writer Ben Michael Byrne has laid out an overwhelmingly complex universe, but there are clues, literal symbols, and events that help to strip back the layers.
Beginning with a massive and necessary info dump, the groundwork is presented to the reader, but it is up to them to fill in the gaps. You are given a reference map, a literal ‘YOU ARE HERE’ notice, and then let loose on this new world. Not quite cyberpunk, no quite steampunk, not quite Judge Dredd… NSEW is a unique yet familiar anthology.
Firstly, we need to talk about the cover by NSEW creator and writer, Ben Michael Byrne. Stark and evocative, it wouldn’t look out of place gracing the cover of 2000AD or any Sci-Fi book from Image. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in this instance, it tells you everything you need to know. We could spend all day discussing the similarities of the cover and contents to any big-name anthology books. Let’s just say it stands as tall as they do.
Dialogue, I will admit, was a bit grating at first. It is difficult to create a primal language using basic English (Cloud Atlas, anyone?). Single word sentences make up most of the interactions, which was a bit off putting – words like ‘met,’ ‘non-vom,’ ‘bright,’ are used to fill out entire scenarios and we are expected to understand. This was confusing at first, but it can be used to great effect, such as in the last story, ‘With Child.’ I wont spoil it here, but it is a simply beautiful story, also illustrated by Byrne. Along with Byrne, other artists come to this dystopian party, all helping to tell 5 different tales. I have to admit, the art was brilliant at best, and serviceable at worst. A tale is only as good as the one drawing it, and this is a mixed bag.
The standout for me was ‘PGR’ illustrator Mladen Luketin. Scratchy, claustrophobic, it is in a way both rough and smooth at the same time. It hits the eyes in the a Sean Murphy kind of fashion, and I like it a lot. All of the tales in NSEW rely mainly on the artist to tell the story, and Mladen wins out this time. Dave Snell has great inking on ‘Deep Turfer 1B,’ but this proved to be the most confusing addition, seemingly out of place with the other chapters.
‘Deep Turfer 1A’ is a bit more straightforward, with really fun art by Jack West-Oram. The ending of this story, much like the others, includes a literal symbol and helps create the mystery. The first story ‘Edge Turf’ is a slice of life story, almost mundane, and ends on a monstrous cliffhanger that I’d like to see resolved. Artist Bryan Coyle has a style that (to me at least) borders on 80s manga , and the dialogue doesn’t help this illusion, nor does the shading pallet. It is saved by the pacing, panels are well framed although there are some confusing scenes. If you are reading digitally, you’ll need a bigger screen than a tablet to take it all in.
Ben Michael Byrne (can we just call him BMB from now on?) is stringing together a darn compelling story here. The quality of this book belays its indie nature. It does call for multiple reads to get your head around the dialogue and some of the action, but like a random late-night amorous encounter that begins as a confusing experience, it’s only when you replay the events does it all begin to make sense. It all comes back to the cover, though. Every issue of NSEW has the same style cover, and they look very collectible, true works of art. However, I can’t say the same for all of the interiors.
NSEW#4 is a showcase of talent, fleshing out an entire world that I want to know more about.
I can’t wait to catch up.