COFFIN BOUND, VOL. 1
Writer: Dan Watters
Design: Emma Price
Publisher: Image Comics
WHAT IS IT?
Good question. It's a modern fairytale; not in the Disney sense, more like a Brothers Grimm tale in the present day. It's a personal quest for redemption, a grand allegory of the self, and a mesmerizing acid trip rolled into one.
It's complicated. The simplest analogy I can come up with is Sandman meets Monster (the manga, not the movie) and a healthy dose of John Wick.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Isabel is being hunted by an unstoppable force, the assassin called EarthEater. She learns this at the word of a dead vulture but is not bothered, for all things must end. If she must die, she wants it to be on her terms; that means erasing every trace of herself from existence before EarthEater can catch her. All things physical and in memory have to go before she'll be ready to die.
Only two things stand in her way, the prophet Cassandra, to whom she feels indebted, and the deranged poet/nightclub owner Paulie, who wants to immortalize her in writing and will seek means of inspiration to do so (including hiring the EarthEater to kill her).
Even if she can deal with these obstacles, will Izzy be able to truely erase herself from the world? And even if she can, how many lives will be destroyed in the process?
Watters's dialogue is unusual and purposefully stilted. I would normally think ill of such a technique, but it works in this case for three reasons:
The style is consistent and deliberate, so it doesn't constantly draw attention to itself and become distracting.
The characters, though never explicitly stated one way or the other, don't present themselves as being wholly human. There's something supernatural about them (from healing properties, to the power of prophecy, to inhuman goals and desires), so their alien speech feels more like a reflection of that than a sign of unnatural dialogue.
The odd speech fits with the tone and themes of the book. The use of elevated and unusual language gives the impression of a Gaiman style fairytale while also allowing the characters to philosophize openly about complicated questions about the nature of existence.
In the presence of all of that rather complicated business, the script and story remain clear and focused throughout all four issues. It never stops being an entertaining story or becomes pretentious and dense in service of its themes. In other words, this reads like The Matrix, not The Matrix Reloaded.
Dani's rough line art and occasionally blurred, indistinct figures, are well utilized in this story. While drawing clear inspiration from early Sandman, it adds its own unique flair that gives a vibrance and texture to the unfamiliar world of Coffin Bound.
Simpson's use of secondary color schemes also does a great bit of legwork in establishing the tone and conveying storytelling techniques (like flashbacks, memories, and changes in perspective) effortlessly to the reader. His moody lighting and use of one dominant color in a single panel reflect a sort of hazy neo-noir feeling seen in films like Drive and comics like Transmissions.
Aditya Bidikar's lettering deserves attention. Unique fonts and speech bubbles for nearly every character reflect differences in character traits, give texture and cadence to the script, and occasionally are a punchline in and of themselves (like every time EarthEater shows up). This lettering is a work of art and represents the comic in microcosm: unique, impeccably crafted, and subtle in intriguing ways.
Every page is ambitiously laid out. While there aren't any circular panels or anything too unorthodox, almost every page boasts a bold use of paneling that contributes to the chaotic pace and feel of the story.
The philosophy the book aims to present is both compelling and relevant to everyday life. At the same time, as I've indicated before, it doesn't shove it in the reader's face at the expense of creating a satisfying narrative.
The full volume paces itself like a heavy metal rock opera, with refrains, choruses, and abstractions that make it a joy to read. As much material as there is to get through, it rarely feels slow or unexciting.
There's a ton of diversity in the cast of characters and sources of mythology which gives the story a sense of legitimacy; however, it avoids appropriation where a lazier story wouldn't have (particularly in its Native-American characters).
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
There's a ton of body horror and some explicit nudity and sexuality that makes it solidly adult in tone. It's also worth noting that if you get squeamish or can't handle body horror in any way, this is not the book for you.
The paneling, though bold, does occasionally commit the great layout sin of being difficult to follow. Panels often appear in the bottom left with much bigger panels next to them so your eye instinctively reads past them. This breaks the flow of reading and can take someone out of the story.
I would never call this light reading. Not all stories have to be popcorn fare, but its heavy themes, art style, and (cannot stress this enough) uncomfortable body horror will turn away readers unprepared for this kind of story.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
With the conclusion of this first volume, it's clear that the creators have a specific vision in mind for the story. Whether future volumes will follow the same characters or exist in a sort of anthology is unclear. However, it's obvious that the product being presented is focused, relevant, and well crafted.
Whether you like deep think-pieces that leave you considering themes and philosophy long after you've put the book down, well-realized fantasy and fairy tails with intriguing worlds and unique premises, or just good stories with fascinating characters and well-paced action, Coffin Bound has something for you.
It might gross you out, it might make you cry, and it might make you question your own sense of self. Whatever effect it has on you, it is intentional and it is earned.
That alone makes it worth the read.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Deep Roots by Dan Watters & Val Rodrigues
Fearscape by Ryan O'Sullivan and Andrea Mutti
Arcadia by Alex Paknadel & Eric Scott Pfeiffer
If you like the art:
Girl With No Name by Alex Ranarivelo, Tanya Wexler, and Dani Strips (AKA Dani)
Mary Shelley: Monster Hunter by Adam Glass, Olivia Cuartero-Briggs, & Hayden Sherman
Moon Knight by Charlie Huston & David Finch
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Dan Watters – Writer
Part of the White Noise collective with other extremely talented comics creators
Outlander: Lives in London
Dani – Illustrator
New Face: Doesn't seem to have a ton of published comics under her belt, but that's not stopping her from doing amazing work on this title
Brad Simpson – Colorist
Tends to take on a lot of the darker, moodier, more supernatural projects.
Aditya Bidikar – Letterer
Multitalented: Co-hosts a comics podcast with fellow letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, called Letters & Lines
Dream Team: Also worked with Dan Watters on Deep Roots, and other White Noise writers, Ram V & Ryan O'Sullivan
Sometimes hosts a #LettererJam event on Twitter where letters all show their different approaches to a single page of comic book art
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