Writer: Brandon Sanderson & Rik Hoskin
Illustrator: Julius Gopez
WHAT IS IT?
The first in a trilogy of volumes of a story set on a desert world, rife with elements of magical fantasy, sword-fighting adventure, political intrigue, and murderous mystery.
It all takes place within Sanderson's Cosmere universe of connected fantasy novels and other media. However, if you're not familiar with those but you've played your share of video games, you might be able to say it has a Dragon Age meets Prince of Persia feel, with a pinch of Assassin's Creed in the wardrobe and a dash of Black Clover in the main character.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Kenton was raised amongst a desert people. Most have some degree of magical ability to help themselves and their people survive. Kenton does not – at least, not much – but wants to prove that he’s just as valuable a person as the masters (or “Mastrells”) amongst them. So he runs the gauntlet each member of their people must, attempting to find five fist-sized spheres amidst a sea of sand. He can give up or ask for help, but that just shows he is what everyone else thinks he is: a failure.
With only 100 minutes and no water, can he do what other, magically gifted members have also failed to do? Can he prove to himself, his people, and especially his father, The Lord Mastrell, that he is worthy and skilled?
And that's only the first chapter! But as Kenton – and we, as the reader – chase the mysteries introduced in this chapter and the events that follow, he's plunged into a world of problems with no clear solutions and a clock ticking down to disaster if he doesn't find a way to save the day. In two weeks' time, he'll have to push himself physically, intellectually, magically, and even diplomatically if he doesn't want everything to fall apart.
So, you know...no pressure.
First off, I just have to say that the art 100% delivers on the book's title: There is A LOT of white sand within. And white outfits. And white balloons. The book is very bright. But it definitely works to bring the world to life visually and thematically.
Brandon Sanderson and Rik Hoskin know how to use limitations to build tension in this comic. Everything has a time limit attached, for one, and you feel that clock counting down constantly. Second, the magic in this world take a level of innate ability, but also a certain amount of sand and water – and one of those things is much rarer than the other. It's this magic and tension and the numerous mysteries we stumble upon that ultimately keep readers hooked, turning pages. That, and the magical worldbuilding Sanderson is famous for. The idea of white sand, power all around them, but our hero lacking that catalyst and having to use his small amount of power like a surgeon wields a scalpel, cutting away to the core of this mystery is fascinating to the point where you have to see what happens next.
Panel design is angular and untraditional, which helps to give the book its own unique voice and style. While I don't necessarily feel like it adds more than that to the comic in a way that traditional panels would be able to deliver (at least, not until Volume 2), I'm all for doing something different and breaking tradition, if only to make the overall aesthetic more unique. The gutter size is also used innovatively to clarify any directional flow issues that may arise because of this, and either Gopez or Dillon add in arrows to further clarify direction when needed.
I didn't show an example of those angular panels below because I instead wanted to show a double-page splash that showcases how intricate and detailed Julius Gopez's linework is and how the epic battles translate to the page. It's truly impressive, and the backmatter shows the linework without colors to further illustrate how tirelessly Gopez must have worked on this book. Expect even more stunning splash pages throughout the series.
Though the line art is intricate, it looks like colorist Sophie Campbell adds some color holds to the page to further highlight certain elements. I think this is helpful, since all of Julius Gopez's lines can ad a fair amount of ink to the page.
Marshall Dillon keeps everything readable, even on smaller devices like phones, which is a feat in itself. Whispered dialogue can get smaller and make you wish he opted for a different effect, but this isn't a book best served by reading on your phone, anyway, so I can't dock him for it. Plus, I loved his solution for "Lightsider" and "Darksider" languages, using different colors for balloon fills. You might miss it, since the colors are very pastel in order to work with the colorist's palette, but it's a subtle non-verbal reminder that the characters are speaking different languages.
Dillon uses sound effects sparingly, but I'm a fan of his attention to small sounds. So often, we get the giant sound effects, but the gag toward the end with Khriss trying to fix the lock is elevated greatly by those little sound effects. Shout-out to Gopez's panel repetition showing the parallelism in Khriss's experience trying and failing to sway (or even meet with) the taisha, and Campbell's colors helping make each of those its own differentiated, separate event.
We get a face in the clouds in an impressive landscape splash, and it's never pointed out or mentioned. This happens again in the next two volumes, even through a changing creative team, leading me to feel like the writers wanted it to be in there. It's unifying elements like this that bring the universe to life, even with changing creative teams, and keep you wondering if the mystery of the face in the clouds is one we'll get more of in the future. Plus, who doesn't love discovering little semi-hidden objects in a comic's art?
If it seems like it's always midday in this comic, that's because it kind of is; it's an intentional piece of the world. Campbell brings some beautiful lighting and shading to the page that brings this to life, and when we see the Diem closer to the end of the volume, it's absolutely gorgeous.
Campbell also helps differentiate flashbacks from present-day by draining the color out of them toward the end.
Sanderson's excellent at extending themes from his worlds and magic within them to other aspects of the book. In this, sand obviously plays a major role, and Kenton's problems and enemies seem as numerous as grains of sand. That's not just me reaching for themes – I think that's something actually pointed out in the text.
By the end, it feels like we've only just scratched the surface of this world and Kenton's story. This is probably a good thing, since there are two more volumes to read!
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
NOTE: I'll say upfront that a lot of these bullets don't have beef with the comic itself, but more the comic as a part of the Cosmere series compared to other works within the Cosmere.
White Sand is chronologically first in the history of Sanderson's Cosmere series. That being said, we don't see any hallmarks we're used to seeing. No Hoid, for the biggest example of this. Also, it's based on an unpublished novel of Sanderson's, so it doesn't seem as polished and put-together as his novels. Maybe things get lost in translation when you have the most experience working in the traditional book form?
The stakes also feel lower than the other books in the Cosmere series that have world-shattering consequences. Because of this and the previous bullet, it feels more like it's coloring in the Cosmere rather than a foundational tale to hold it up, like Mistborn or The Stormlight Archives. That being said, Sanderson has announced a sequel series to this first trilogy, so there may be room within to make these first two bullets moot.
There is a great deal of dialogue in this book. While that can liven up scenes in traditional books, in a comics medium, it can bog them down. However, this is where Sanderson's voice shines the brightest, so fans of his might be OK with this. Simply stated: Yeah, there's a lot of dialogue, but it's GOOD dialogue.
It's not super clear why Kenton looks so different from the other members of his civilization until the second volume. Then again, in traditional Sanderson style, a lot of information gets thrown at the reader early on, so it may have gotten lost in a sea of information. But we don't find out why so many sand maesters are bald, or why there don't seem to be many (or any?) women amongst their number in this first volume.
There's a pretty heavy reliance on the colorist to convey depth in this comic. I love Gopez's linework, but I think a professional inker could've built on those lines in a way that could also give the scenes more depth.
Some fight scenes could have been drawn out a bit more. They felt like an economic use of the page rather than a chance to focus more on action and less on dialogue and exposition. This is more of a personal issue likely due to experience reading Big 2 titles, but I would've been fine with more prolonged action sequences.
While I can't hold it against this volume, I feel obligated to warn you that the next two volumes have multiple illustrator, colorist, and letterer changes. However, DC Hopkins pinch-hitting for letters is a strong choice that pays dividends for the title, and the book's color palette stays pretty close to this volume. With how intricate and detailed Gopez's linework is in this volume and most of the next, I wonder if doing plainer backgrounds in some panels might have saved him some time, allowing him to remain on the title. Then again, I have no idea why he moved off the title, so this is just speculation.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
White Sand, Vol. 1, is a finely crafted fantasy comic in its own right. But for fans of Sanderson and the Cosmere universe, it's a must-read. The world and its characters, the magic, the mystery and the intrigue are sure to keep you hooked, desperate to know what happens next. And Julius Gopez's fantastic line art is a sight to behold on every single page turn.
Plus, if you love it, Volume 2 picks up right where this volume leaves off. So, if you love this first installment, the next two volumes are ready for you to devour immediately. If you love fantasy, White Sand should be on your reading list.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
White Sand, Vol. 2 by Sanderson, Hoskin, Gopez, & Ohta
Dark One by Brandon Sanderson, Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly
Magneto by Cullen Bunn & Gabriel Walta
If you like the art:
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Brandon Sanderson – Story
Name Recognition: He's a massively well-known figure in the world of fantasy and sci-fi literature, especially for his Cosmere universe and finishing the Wheel of Time series
Award Winner: His literature, particularly within his Cosmere universe, has won many literary awards
Don't Google too much about the Cosmere unless you're all right with spoilers!
Rik Hoskin – Script
Moniker: Has written several novels under the pen name of James Axler
Also worked with Richard K. Morgan to script a graphic novel adaptation/spin-off of Altered Carbon
Outlander: Lives in the UK
Julius Gopez – Illustrator
Outlander: Hails from the Phillipines
Known for his thin, detailed and intricate linework
Sophie Campbell – Colorist
Multitalented: Also writes and illustrates comics
"Primarily writes and draws characters who are adolescent or young adult women, including various races, body types, sexual orientations, and abilities." (Wikipedia)
Marshall Dillon – Letterer
Test of Time: Has been working in comics for over 25 years
Multitalented: Has done most comic jobs except for drawing a comic
Rich Young – Editor
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