One of the people I met at PAX was Jim Munroe, an interactive fiction author who’s also a novelist, filmmaker, and comic book writer. (Other reviewers might switch the order of those accomplishments.) Jim’s IF works include Punk Points, which I’ve played, and Everybody Dies and Roofed, which I haven’t, since they came out while I was frozen.
Turns out that one of Jim’s current projects is Sword Of My Mouth, a graphic novel about life in Detroit after The Rapture, written by Munroe and illustrated by Shannon Gerard. The book is itself apparently a spinoff from Munroe’s earlier post-Rapture story with Salgood Sam, Therefore Repent!. Now, the first thing I think of when I hear “Post-Rapture story” is Left Behind, a series of 167 or so novels, products, and novel-like products. Although I have not read or viewed any of them them, I get the impression that they want me to get on board with being some specific kind of Christian, and think that if I don’t, I’m in for a scary time sometime soon here.
This does not seem to be Sword Of My Mouth‘s agenda. Instead, it treats the Rapture as a straight-up fantasy premise. In fact, several of the characters suspect that what’s happened to the world has nothing to do with God, and is instead a pretext for some kind of extradimensional invasion. Given that angels are slaughtering people in Chicago and have put New York under martial law, not to mention the fact that suddenly magic works, causing all kinds of unpredictable mutations and freaky phenomena, I think it’s a pretty convincing theory.
The book centers on Ella, a newly-single mother of a baby born after the Rapture, a completely normal infant except for his full set of adult teeth. She’s newly single because her ex, Andre, went to Chicago to join the anti-angel resistance movement. She’s adrift in a Detroit even more abandoned than it is now, and after some unfortunate events she finds herself part of a post-apocalyptic urban farmstead commune. It’s as idyllic a setting as there is to be had in this world, but it’s surrounded by roiling trouble: not just the angels and volatile magic, but cultists known as The Risen, and the unsettling appearance of Famine, a physical incarnation of one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The story’s world is imaginative and engrossing, with plenty of embedded bits that feel like they could launch books of their own. The supporting characters felt convincing and real to me, even the ones with fish scales, missing eyes, or big scary fangs. In fact, part of the way the book effectively leverages its format is by setting prosaic dialogue in the mouths of otherworldly-looking characters. The dialogue doesn’t have to make a big deal of the character’s appearance — the art does that — and consequently the people feel more down-to-earth and knowable than they would if they used more elevated diction.
The art itself eschews the typical comic panel format — there’s not a gutter to be seen. Instead, Gerard conveys action by drawing the same figure in several poses on the page, poses which usually read left-to-right and top-to-bottom to depict sequential events. The style takes a little getting used to, but I was surprised at how natural it soon felt. Drawings overlapping and flowing into each other evocatively echo the erosion of boundaries in the story’s milieu — now that magic works, you never know when something you say or think will have a physical effect in the world.
The lettering, on the other hand, was a distraction and a detraction from the story. I think it’s Gerard’s own lettering, having seen some of her other work, but it kept reminding me of Delirium from Sandman. The story would have been better served by using either digital fonts or just a less trippy handwritten style. As it was, all the characters sounded half-drunk in my head. Really, though, a comic is pretty good when my main complaint is about the lettering.
Well, actually I do have one more complaint: I thought the ending was too abrupt. That may have been a product of the fragmented way I ended up reading the story, but what it comes down to is that I thought the book ended too soon. The fact that I wanted to spend more time in Munroe and Gerard’s world tells you what you need to know about my response to this book.
(Full disclosure: Jim sent me an advance digital copy of the book when I expressed interest in writing about it.)