Comics Features

REVIEW: Penny Blackfeather: Volume I

Written by Z. B. Hunter

Today’s independent comic review is of Penny Blackfeather, written and illustrated by Francesca Dare and published by Sloth Publishing. Penny Blackfeather is a Regencypunk fantasy that follows the story of an adventure-seeking young lady named Penelope Blake, the ghost of her adventurous grandfather, and actual adventurer(?) and a parrot. There’s portals, monsters and tree nymphs so if you’re looking for something that’s all out fantasy, then look no further!

The story is set in an early 19th Century England that’s seemingly normal until a stranger appears in town and completely changes the course of his own life, and the life of our protagonist, all the while objecting to (and rejecting) everything. It’s a lot of fun to read and even more fun to look at. The artwork reminds me of a Tim Burton creation – but I suspect that is solely down to the association we have to him and contemporary gothic media. Regardless, the drawing style is unique, charming and very clever, as is the colour scheme. I’m not usually one for grayscale but it grew on me within the first few pages and after that it didn’t bother me at all. I particularly enjoyed the way the panels had only a dash of colour and it was purposeful. I found it gave the comic more depth once I realised the significance of it. (I won’t give it away here, you’ll just have to read it to discover yourself!)

“Volume I” is about 120 pages long, but don’t let that deter you. It is well written, easy to read and easier to lose yourself in. I particularly loved the interactions between Penelope and the narrator, her grandfather. The dialogue is oddly light-hearted given the dark themes the story touches on but that’s all part of the charm. Francesca does a pretty cool thing with her use of dialogue boxes that I’ve not really much of in comics, and that is overlap. I’ll show you what I mean:

Extract

For anyone who has ever written comics (or attempted to, and failed spectacularly i.e. me) you’ll know that one of the most important things is the organisation and flow of dialogue. It must be clear to the reader what is being said and in what order, and this usually results in the speech bubbles having their own distinct space. By slightly bending this ‘rule’ we can see that there are two people talking at the same time, but you tend to focus more on what the primary character has to say – which happens a lot in everyday conversations. Another interesting thought is that this is a visual way of representing the constant shifting lines between real life and fantasy, but that’s a discussion for another time.

I could honestly go on all day about how much I enjoyed Penny Blackfeather and how I can’t wait to get started on the next part but I’ll leave that up to you to do, which you can do so here.

Let us know what you think (once you’ve managed to tear yourself away from the screen) in the comments below or on twitter.

About the author

Z. B. Hunter

Fresh out of university, Zaibien is hoping to make a splash in the world of literary art. When he's not figuring out new ways to subvert the fantasy genre, he's somewhere between writing his first novel and wishing there was a way to telepathically communicate his ideas onto paper exactly as they are in his head.
Unlike his characters, we can't all have superpowers, so he's just having to settle with reading comics, going to the gym and occasionally pouring his heart out over his laptop.