Updated: May 16, 2022
Writer: C.S. Pacat (@cspacat)
Illustrator: Johanna the Mad (@JohannaTheMad)
Colorist: Joana LaFuente (@JoanaLafuente)
Letterer: Jim Campbell (@CampbellLetters)
School Logos: Fawn Lau
Editors: Shannon Watters and Dafna Pleban Technical Consultant: Pieter Leeuwenburgh
Publisher: BOOM! Box (@boomstudios)
WHAT IS IT?
An aspiring fencer and his accidental rival must learn to cohabitate if they want to prove themselves worthy of championship gold. A YA sports series featuring fast-paced action, personality clashes, and relationship drama.
Think of titles like Haikyuu!! or Yuri!!! On Ice with all of drama of a private school narrative.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Nicholas Cox is a fencing wunderkind and illegitimate son of a famous fencing champ. He’s out to prove his worth and fight for the chance to compete. After a rough life of scraping by and learning to fence by any means necessary, he finally achieves that opportunity, but is quickly and brutally defeated by a stoic and undefeated opponent named Seiji Katayama. This loss only strengthens his determination to hone his skills.
Six months later, Nicholas is accepted into a private all-boys school known as Kings Row and the institution is putting together a fencing team. His excitement is immediately destroyed when he discovers his new roommate is none other than Seiji! The animosity between the two is stark, but the possibility of joining the fencing team requires them to learn to deal with it – even if that means hanging up a shower curtain between their beds.
The personalities residing in Kings Row showcase how cut-throat and diverse the world of competitive fencing truly is. With tensions rising between himself and his new roommate, and the pressure to perform increasing with every thrust of the blade, can Nicholas overcome his rookie status and prove himself on the piste, or will he buckle under the weight of expectations placed upon him?
Pacat writes with a realism and tone that is appropriate for the target age group. The conversations are natural and feel genuine, with a seriousness to the situation that is lightened up by humor that a YA audience will enjoy. Both the internal narrative and external speech flow well and the journey of both Nicholas and Seiji, as well as their fellow students, are given ample time to develop.
Johanna the Mad’s illustrations balance that classic Archie Comics vibe with a modern aesthetic and style influenced by a love of anime. The attention to detail in the movements of the fencers and the designs of the cast all showcase a care for the world of Fence to allow it to be approachable for a wide variety of readers. The understanding of anatomy and how a body moves in various styles of fencing looks fluid and powerful.
LaFuente’s color choices are spot on. Everything from outfits and skin tones to background hues are vibrant and really pop against the stark white of the fencing gear. The shading lines are sharp, which adds to the boldness of the overall look of the character designs.
The small details Campbell puts in the lettering is commendable. Fully fleshed-out signage and notes showcase a care for the minor points of the story, while perfectly bolded words alongside lightened text for whispering add depth to the conversations.
Lau’s logo for Kings Row is stunning. It’s a stand-out piece and a fantastic way to introduce the six-month time jump. It’s paired beside a full-page illustration of Nicholas at a low point, which makes the next step in his journey seem vibrant and hopeful.
The fencing uniform logo, which is featured on the back of the volume itself, is wickedly cool and would make a great piece of wearable merchandise. It’s slick and the linework is clean on the jackets even when the characters are small in the panel.
The fencing is shown in a way that both laymen and avid fans of the sport will both appreciate, courtesy of Leeuwenburgh’s technical advice. It is easy to understand and follow along with for those of us who aren’t familiar with the details and rules, and informative moments are presented in a way that feels natural within the story instead of coming across as an exposition.
Watters and Pleban took extra care in making sure everything was grammatically sound and the story flows well not only from panel to panel but between chapters. It’s an easy, clean read.
The character designs typically lean more on the realistic side but every so often there are moments of cartoonish, exaggerated expressions and anime-influenced textures, which helps keep the story from growing too serious and adds a sense of humor.
Nicholas is a great hero for a story like this. He has untapped skills and a bit of an uncontrolled temper, with a lot to learn about taking fencing seriously. He suffers defeat, he needs to study and work hard to hone and advance his skills, and doesn’t always keep his cool in the heat of the moment. He's authentic and it's appreciated.
There is a surprising lack of lettering-based sound effects, which was a brilliant choice for this story. It allows the motions of the fencers to do the talking which is refreshing since sports comics tend to lean heavy on them.
The time spent both on the piste and on personal relationships are balanced in a way that allows both key points to take the spotlight in equal parts. It reminds the reader that there is more to life than competition and allows the characters to be more than what’s expected of a sports-focused narrative where the typical conversation and mindset is often solely focused on the next competition.
The cast is diverse in a multitude of ways. Their body shapes, ethnicities, personalities, sexual orientations, and more vary from person to person and it enhances the believability of the world. It also opens up the avenue for many readers to see themselves in the sport of fencing when they may not have believed they could try it before.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
At times, the lettering is packed tight in the bubbles, and the bubbles themselves are quite small compared to the size of the panels. Several of them could have been split up or given wider spaces, it makes the text feel compacted and can be hard to read. Some of the smaller free-floating annotations could have also been bigger, as they are hard to see.
There are a lot of inconsistencies in how the characters are introduced; some characters are named several pages or a full chapter after they first appear, some are introduced in narrative form, and others introduce themselves. The cast is quite large and there are a lot of names to keep track of, so a focus on proper introductions would have made the minor characters more memorable.
The synopsis is a bit misleading. It leans heavily into certain plot points as if they were going to be massive parts of the included narrative, but the majority of them are hardly touched on and feel as if the synopsis is an overarching note on the full of the series instead of this particular volume. Much of it is glossed over/not mentioned and it hypes up a lot of pieces that aren't offered in volume 1.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Part of an extensive series featuring several volumes and even a set of spin-off novels, Fence is a fun comic that explores the ups and downs of the adolescent discovery of self through sports, rivalries, and relationships. Though this first volume barely touches on it, it is noted that the series does delve into queer relationships, which is something to note for the following issues as something to look forward to.
This first step into Nicholas’ journey to hone his skills and make a name for himself in the fencing world is refreshing in the fact that he isn’t an all-star right off of the bat, which makes him realistic and relatable as a hero. He feels more human than the majority of most main characters, especially in the sports world. His instant rivalry with the aloof Seiji is powerful, and the other fencers add a tension to the competition for a spot on the team. All of these facts make the road to achieving his dreams more rewarding.
A love letter to sports comics and animation that came before it, Fence is a great addition to comic collections of all kinds. The focus on a rarely utilized sport will delight fans who are looking for something new to read outside of the norm of soccer and ice skating. The modern setting and diverse cast, as well as the focus on school-house drama and the seedlings of romance, will captivate readers who enjoy character development. While the instantly heated rivalry, quick moving, and sharply illustrated fencing matches will pull in anyone who wants a gripping read. Fence is a well-rounded, modern underdog story for the younger generation.
HOW DO I READ IT?
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