Monday, 5 July 2010

Review: Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City, Brendan Leach (self-published, 2010)

Brendan C. Leach | Newsprint, black & white, 42 pages | Free! | Available Now

One of the most brilliant things to arrive at ATF HQ this year has got to be Brendan Leach’s newsprint-format comic, The Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City. Coming wrapped in a gorgeous mock early twentieth century newspaper cover (complete with hand-drawn herald and headlines), it appears to promise the reader an off-the-wall retro-fantastic adventure with hot-air balloon riding dinosaur hunters at its centre. Much like the real tabloids, the bombastic words and images shown on the cover are simply an intriguing hook, there to lure unsuspecting comic readers inside for the real story. What at first seems like it might be a fun and schlocky caper actually turns out to be a rich, emotionally dense tale of two brothers dealing with issues of jealousy, glory, family and duty. Whilst the preceding could no-doubt be used as a bad tag-line for a vapid blockbuster war epic, I assure you that this comic is, in fact, fantastic.

Set in 1904 New York, the need to combat the titular Pterodactyls has led to the formation of the “Pterodactyl Commission” and, in turn, city-sponsored hunters that aim to quell this prehistoric hangover. Two such hunters are the two Sullivan Brothers, Irish immigrants who, like many people of this era, seem shoehorned into a job due to their background, family tradition and lousy employment options. Eamon, the eldest of the brothers, is introduced as a dashingly-moustached, headline-making (literally, as seen on the cover) winged-monster slayer. His younger brother Declan (ostensibly the main focus of the comic), on the other hand, is much more cynical and disaffected, relegated to simple watchtower duty.

As seen in the last panel's gun: Leach often includes sketchy repositions of figures, objects and limbs in his artwork, an interesting compositional element that adds to the comic's atmosphere of being "between realities".

As the comic progresses, it becomes clear that there are only two Pterodactyls remaining - the crux on which the entire plot balances. Eamon’s motive of becoming the man known to finally end the “Ptero terror” leads him to make ever more careless decisions in the name of glory, whilst Declan becomes more and more concerned that the extinction of the creatures will mean that his family will be redundant in a world that no longer requires their service. Handled subtly and with thoughtful composition, it’s genuinely engrossing stuff, and, dispute (and possibly because of) the far-fetched concept it’s one of the most human-feeling comics I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year.

The most impressive thing about the comic is Leach’s economical progression of narrative and its characters. There is no waste here, and every panel seems crafted to push the reader’s perception of the comic’s world forward. It’s only 42 pages long (cover to cover) and, without the slightest bit of embellishment, I really felt like I had read a graphic novel’s worth of content. Connected to this well-crafted expositional sense is his use of newsprint itself, with Leach cleverly utilising the format of the newspaper front page to set the reader up with all the contextual knowledge of the story’s world before they’ve even opened the comic.

I want a bomb-lance. Actually, I'm far too clumsy to be trusted with a bomb-lance.

Confirming my belief that some the most exciting things in small press at the moment are happening in newsprint, Leach's merging of the form and functionality of this cost-effective medium has produced an interesting comic that every comics reader (and every comic denier) should read. Basically, you’re getting graphic-novel-level content in a comic-book size, for absolutely nothing. Furthermore, it’s completely free. Free! I know, right? Free. Featuring dinosaurs, hot air balloons and engaging, thoughtful storytelling, The Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City is proof that sometimes you can judge a book's awesomeness by its cover, even if your expectations of its content are a little off. Ok, that wasn't so catchy. Just make sure you get hold of a copy immediately, you won't regret it.

  • Obtain a copy by contacting Brendan via his website. All you have to pay are the postal costs!

1 comment:

  1. "Confirming my belief that some the most exciting things in small press at the moment are happening in newsprint"

    i guess it's because of the printing price ... maybe...
    been in NY earlier this year, there were LOTS of them (tabloid sized comics)...

    btw this comic looks really good...