“Drawing Blood Spilled Ink” #1 starts with a straight-ahead premise that leans into the absurd quick enough to build significant interest. Warning: minor spoilers ahead.
Story by Kevin Eastman & David Avallone
Written by David Avallone
Illustrated by Ben Bishop, Kevin Eastman & Troy Little
Colored by Brittany Peer
Lettered by Taylor Esposito Once upon a time, Books co-created The Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls: a gritty, funny indie comic that became a billion dollar global franchise. Now, years later, the partnership dissolved, the corporate buy-out all spent, Books is struggling to recover from the hit-and-run driver called early success… and looking for the will and the joy to create something new again. Co-created by Kevin Eastman and David Avallone.
“Drawing Blood Spilled Ink” #1 is off to a good start. The book has a tight premise that’s delivered on through some nice storytelling touches, good art choices and excellent lettering. Behind-the-scenes peeks at the comics industry are tantalizing for readers and long-time fans, but they’re often hard to pull off within the medium and they run the risk of turning bitter or meandering without much of a point. Eastman and Avallone strike a balance between the sensational and the practical by dropping us into Shane’s crumbling life mid-stride, and explaining their way out through a series of flashbacks.
Wait. A flashback within a flashback? Doesn’t usually work. In fact, it almost never works, but “Drawing Blood” entices us with some grit and then sends us on a bit of a ride through Shane’s past, from his childhood dreams to the bite of cold, current reality. Eastman and Avallone are taking chances with the storytelling in this book, and at least in this first issue, they pay off. Turns out, working with your comics hero can put you a few million in debt with the mafia, and when you’re trying to branch out into other forms of art, your original work can occasionally take on a life of its own. Eastman and Avallone pull off this narrative complexity by working in multiple artists. The immediate flashback and main storyline is done by Bishop, while Eastman and Little take on Shane’s childhood and, to avoid major spoilers, some of the more surreal moments served up by this first issue. The visual variation isn’t just nice because it’s considered and honed to maintain the book’s tone – it also provides some measured dissonance to help pump up the shock value and loosen our mental reliance on realism.
Avallone’s writing is a lot of fun. There’s enough drama here to sell the story’s grit and Shane’s believability as a not-so-likeable narrator, with quite a bit of dark humor along the way. Seediness is important in a story like “Drawing Blood,” and a lot of recent takes on noir comics rely too heavily on a visual styling with quips for zip or flavor. The quirkiness in “Drawing Blood” is baked into the story like stains on an old couch. It’s in the characters and the locations, not just the dialogue. For readers who might be weary of impeccably snappy wit from every face on the page, Avallone delivers just the right amount to keep the book absurd and grim in good balance.
Bishop’s line is nice and contained without feeling too clinical. “Drawing Blood” has enough careful shading and detail to give the book a bit of an edge, but the characters are clear and the backgrounds are grounded enough to situate us in a reality that’s pretty similar to our own. Bishop knows how to match visuals for symbolic effect and how to transition nicely into and out of the other artist’s scenes – and not just because he was responsible for all of the layouts. Little’s take on the hallucinatory moment is great, with lots of fun angles and cartooning to help set it apart from Shane’s “reality,” and Eastman’s roughness helps sell Shane’s childhood as a long ways off, both in terms of time and ideals.
Colors can make or break a mood in a comic, and Peer’s work on “Drawing Blood” is what really clinches the book as a whole. Finding a palette that’s stylized and limited for a crime mood is difficult, but finding a palette that works for all of that plus a stylized hallucination is a tall order. Peer does this almost flawlessly. Issue #1 opens with a moody purple, red and pink nighttime scene, followed by Shane’s brown-hued office with nice green and red pops and a smooth transition into Shane’s childhood recollection, tinted with some sepia flair to sell the time jump. We return to a greenish present, and the hallucination blends all of these tones together in a subtle way against a paper-hued, finely textured background. The daytime drama that follows is a nice blend of bright sky pops and muted tones to settle us into the action without diluting any of the tension that’s built so far. Peer’s choices are spot-on for the kind of story that the team is trying to tell.Continued below
Esposito’s lettering chops are on full display in “Drawing Blood,” and that’s always a treat. Esposito goes for a nice legal pad background and cramped, narrow font for Shane’s narration that says a lot about his character and is a nice send-up of noir lettering tropes in other comics. Little’s work requires a different style, and Esposito goes to town with hexagonal balloon strokes and a big, cartoony font that sells a lot of drama. Similarly, Eastman’s flashback scene requires a hand-lettering style and Esposito delivers that as well. Finally, the book’s “regular” dialogue is done nicely with Esposito’s economical balloons, tails and a font with a bit of bounce that complements Bishop’s careful cartooning. Esposito brings flavor and clarity to every single book he works on, and it’s a real pleasure to see his skills at work in a story that’s taking some risks on the page.
“Drawing Blood Spilled Ink” #1 is a finely crafted take on the weird and unsavory world of cartooning and comics. The creative team put a lot of time and imagination into this one, and issue #1 does a good job of introducing us to Shane in all his imperfections and piquing interest by signalling that we’re headed off the map in more ways than one.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Drawing Blood Spilled Ink” #1 draws back the curtain on the drama-filled world of comics in an enjoyable and innovative way.