Pullbox Reviews: Pantomime #1- A crime caper with a different angle… & hand signs

Life at the Wayfair Academy for Special Needs is a lot like life at any other private school. The children live on the campus, forming their own circles of friends & allies and going about their days engaged in higher learning. The faculty does what it can to keep them all in line, but no amount of planning can come up with all of the answers where kids en masse are involved. Face facts: as adults, it’s our job to keep kids from getting too out of control in the hopes that they don’t blow up the dormitory, and as kids it’s their job to… try to blow up the dormitory, I guess. Okay, that might have been a little over the top.

Did I mention that Wayfair Academy is an academy for the hearing impaired?

Haley and Max, siblings, have nothing but vague memories of their absent father, and are left on their own when their mother dies. Upon their arrival at Wayfair, they’re introduced to what will be a closely knit group of friends: Kestrel, Lexi, & Harry. In the opening issue, what starts out as whacky teen hijinks- the group planning a caper to break into a teacher’s office to retrieve confiscated cell phones- turns into a much bigger, much riskier escapade.

What, you thought it just gonna be a Breakfast Club, John Hughes styled lark?

Christopher Sebela has approached an unconventional story in a very unconventional way. Not only has he come up with an underage Ocean’s 11, he’s also introduced a cast made up almost entirely of hearing impaired ne’er-do-wells. What really stood out about his story here is that at no time do any of these kids seem to acknowledge that they’re in any way handicapped or particularly challenged. In fact, I’d have to say that when their powers combine, it’s just about everyone else around them that is put at a disadvantage. Sebela has gone to great effort to make sure that, at least amongst themselves, his group of antagonistic protagonists are kids first. The approach serves the story, and the characters, very well as it highlights what’s happening rather than any purely situational or perceived disadvantage this group might have.

Artist David Stoll had his work cut out for him, as part of his duties included conveying the sign language in use throughout the issue. It’s not something you’d really give much thought to, unless you are hearing impaired and actually know better, but including hand signs along with the written dialogue serves to give some context to what’s happening in the story. Aside from the sign language, Stoll’s art captures the youth and the attitudes of the characters. Everyone is distinct, their designs reflecting their personalities perfectly. Dearbhla Kelly’s use of colors clues readers in to the various settings of the story, moving back and forth between the warm earth tones of Wayfair Academy during the day, and the shadowy nature of the kids’ larcenous nighttime activities.

I’m gonna give some big kudos to Justin Birch for his work on the lettering for Pantomime. He takes the dialogue that’s already been translated into sign in the panel, and uses word balloons a little more creatively. Where the balloons would generally point at the head, or mouth, of the person speaking, here they’re pointing at their hands. In the case of people speaking out loud, the word balloons contain scribbles… nothing useful to a reader, which would be exactly what’s being communicated to a person unable to hear what’s being said.

In terms of inclusivity, Pantomime is tapping into multiple groups who might not generally see themselves featured in a comic book. This isn’t limited to hearing impaired readers as one of the kids, upbeat and outgoing Kestrel, doesn’t identify as a specific gender and is referenced throughout the book as “they” or “them”. I can’t say that this is a book that would have normally jumped at me from the shelf, but there’s no denying the skill, effort, and outright love that went into it. Well suited for teen readers and older, Pantomime starts out with an interesting premise and builds to a bit of a nail-biter to finish the issue.

Final Score: 10

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