Becky Cloonan is one of the most talented, hard-working artists working in comics today. This past year alone, she helped revitalize the “Conan” line at Dark Horse, became the first woman to draw an issue of “Batman,” and worked on “Swamp Thing” and “B.P.R.D.: Hell On Earth: The Pickens County Horror.” She also published a fully-illustrated version of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and co-founded the website Lounak Distribution as a centralized location for independent comics artists to sell their art and merchandise directly to their customers. Somehow, between all of that, she manages to find time to put out a new mini-comic about once per year. Her two most recent books, “Wolves” and “The Mire,” are still in print, and are great examples of what the artist is capable of unhindered by the whims of other writers, editors and publishers.
“Wolves” is the story of a hunter who is hired by his king to defeat a terrible evil threatening the countryside, and the equally terrible sacrifice he must make in order to succeed. “The Mire” is the tale of a squire sent on a secret mission through a murky swamp to deliver a message to the neighboring castle, and the great secret he discovers about himself at his journey’s end. While the stories are not directly in sequence, in terms of plot or characters, Cloonan has said that they are part of a thematic trilogy, of which the recently announced “Demeter” is presumably the final installment.
They are, in a sense, different iterations on similar themes. Although both heroes succeed in their nominal quests, they both have tragic endings. The stories are more about the inner struggles of the protagonists than the journey; both characters are “lost in the woods” metaphorically as well as literally. In “The Mire,” Aiden must confront the ghosts from his past to come to terms with the truth of his birthright. In “Wolves,” the hunter also looks back on the past, but the truth he must come to terms with is in the now: to destroy his prey, he must become it.
Cloonan is one of those artists capable of striking a perfect balance between stylized and realistic artwork. Her work is vividly detailed where it needs to be, but since she is able to convey so much substance and emotion from a few lines that that is rarely the case. For this reason, Becky Cloonan is the queen of extreme close-ups. She’s able to say more with a character’s eyes than most writers can with an entire page of speech bubbles. These stories are also great examples of her artistic versatility, as she wrote, drew, inked, lettered and designed each comic personally, and all with the same level of skill and attention to details.
The books themselves works of art, not just what’s printed on the pages. “Wolves” and “The Mire” are 24 and 28 pages respectively, and just over 5”x8” in dimension. They are black-and-white, in 3-color silk-screened softcovers. You can order copies from Becky Cloonan’s personal website or from Lounak Distribution. I recommend you do, they’ll make a fine addition to your collection.