“Expansion,” published by AdHouse Books is co-written/co-illustrated by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward. It is the first story the pair had worked on together and sows the seeds for their later work, such as “Ancestor” found in the Brandon Graham helmed Image magazine “Island.” “Expansion” is hardcore and heady science fiction and everything you might expect from this dynamic comics creating duo.
Written, Illustrated, and Lettered by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward
A dark sci-fi epic and a mash-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, and a David Cronenberg body horror film, “Expansion” tells the story of a clashing of cultures. The tale starts eight billion years in the past as two travelers encounter a large foreign ship. Upon entering they learn of an entire civilization yearning to expand, thrive, and just stay alive. But at what cost?
The first work from creators, whether they be filmmakers, musicians, or any type of artist, tends to be more indulgent and creatively sprawling especially compared to their work that follows. After years of toiling on their craft they explode onto the scene with something that amounts to a coalesces of years of experiences and influences. Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, with his films, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, and Magnolia, comes to mind. Those films are filled with long takes, hit music, and just a general exploding kinetic energy. His more recent films: The Master, Inherent Vice, and Phantom Thread, shred a lot of what he was trying to do early on, and while still amazing films, represents a very different energy. With “Expansion,” Sheean and Ward display a lot of that, for lack of a better phrase, “early work,” creative energy in a really great way.
“Expansion” is through and through a sci-fi story. The story starts on action and moves at a break-neck speed. It’s clear they know exactly the kind of story they want to tell and they tell it confidently and beautifully. As Sheean and Ward progress in their careers I doubt they’ll leave behind their sci-fi roots but they will undoubtably mature and grow into something else like all great artists do. However, at this moment we are getting something truly special: a story filtered through the lens of years of watching Star Trek episodes and good old fashioned existentialism akin to Tarkovsky.
The illustration is presented in gorgeous black, white, and gray tones. Simple panel layouts convey the story in a concise and efficient manner. The longer my eye sits on the page, the more I’m impressed by it. The use of blacks and shadows throughout “Expansion” is also striking. There’s a sense on menace and unease that perpetuates this book. As the book progresses, we get some amazing pages of fire and silhouettes that are truly astounding. The lighting in this book can stand with the best in the medium.
Narratively, “Expansion” is incredibly mature. It avoids tight neat littles bows of exposition and explanation. Instead, “Expansion” let’s us wrestle with what it portrays and just lets it sit there on the page. The themes of “Expansion” have lingered in mind and occupied valuable space in my head long after I’d finished reading it.
There is a sparse quality to the dialogue in “Expansion” that I found refreshing. Sheean and Ward subscribe to the “show don’t tell” method of storytelling. They also are not afraid to take moments to let the story breath. One page in particular features a sun rising over the horizon. That is all. It’s simple. It’s beautiful. It also grounds us to the setting. Much of this book takes place in space, but pages like this beautifully denote changes in settings in an elegant manner.
I think you can find real, elemental, almost Shakespearian, themes in “Expansion,” like the Proletariat vs the Bourgeoisie, the failure of colonialism, and the idea of Misotheism, meaning the hatred of God or the gods. These are ideas that you may not engage with but the fact that this stuff is baked into it undoubtably adds to it’s appeal. It’s heady sci-fi not just for the sake heady sci-fi. It has a real brain and heart and ideas that transcend it’s genre trappings.Continued below
The momentum and pacing of “Expansion” effortlessly propels us forward. Sheean and Ward take a singular idea and follow it to it’s dark end. Actions occur and everything keeps escalating until it comes to a crescendo. “Expansion” is a true example of a page turner.