Artful #1 Struggles to Deliver a Convincing Narrative Flow

Artful is a difficult comic book to review. It’s not a comic that directly serves an audience who has not read the original novel by Peter David from which it was adapted from. Having never read the original novel, one can assume it’s relatively faithful. Certainly, the dialogue and art seem to fit the period for which this story is based (1834 in London, England). However, being both an American and someone from the 21st century, this story proves difficult to follow as well as to understand the exact goals of what the writer and artist are seeking to convey.

The story begins in introducing us to the main protagonist but the story quickly gets lost in the conversation the character is having with the man he pulled out of a coffin. A huge problem in the beginning of the story is the character is not even identified. Who exactly are we following? We are just tossed in media res. In media res is a powerful tool for an author that can be used quite effectively for more established and well known protagonists. An example may be Jason Bourne or James Bond. Both are very well-known characters and since we have a previous understanding and history with them, there’s no exact problem in jumping right in with another adventure.

So, the key problem right off the bat with this story is we have no idea who exactly these characters are, just that they speak in British English and have a good understanding of British literature. Soon, then we are following some random kid being tossed in prison by a very rude guard. The reader sort of feels bad for the kid before he and the guard end up becoming best friends again. You think they were trying to make a statement about criminal justice and how the legal system could treat young children like that? Instead, they just skip to another kid in prison with another flashback.

While it’s tough to follow the characters because we do not know who they are, what’s also proving tough for this comic is the overplotting. There’s not one true real narrative sequence followed through until the very end. Writer Nicole D’Andria seems to think her audience can navigate to a new story plot or side plot every couple of pages. If a part of your audience doesn’t know the characters, does it make sense to introduce even more characters and storylines when we are only first getting started?

It could be a lot easier for the audience if D’Andria took into account the fact others may be interested but not aware of the very characters she is writing. Peter David is indeed one of the most popular writers in all of comics and probably crafted a masterpiece as he has with most of the rest of his work. Finally, midway through the issue, we start to follow two characters, Jack Dawkins and Alexandrina, but we still know nothing about them. It’s tough to figure much of why the issue was structured the way it did. It may have made more sense, to begin with these protagonists if the author is going to spend the rest of the issue focusing the narrative on them.

The beginnings of this issue did not seem to serve the issue well. However, the same cannot be said for the art. The artwork by Laura Neubert is quite good and creates a great environment upon which to believe in these characters. Neubert seems to have a good handle on the narrative and the characters in it despite D’Andria’s confusingly structured narrative.

This series is not one that is friendly to the outside reader. It might make a lot more sense for D’Andria to take into account how part of her audience may be those from the outside, even those with knowledge of British literature and culture such as the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Hopefully, things take a change for the better with the next issue.

Have you read Artful yet? What did you make of it? Be sure to check out the comic via Action Lab and let us know in the comments section or on Twitter!

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Tommy Zimmer

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