Pullbox Reviews: Hedge #1 – Final push for a Kickstarter comic worth reading…

How could you say no to that face…? Back this book, you monster!

Growing up in Brooklyn can’t always be easy. Not a city in itself, but a borough of the larger whole that is NYC, it’s one of the most densely populated areas in the country with over two and a half million residents (as of 2020). All of those people, living that close together as they’re bustling around in their daily lives, one would have to assume that it gets a little loud.

Not a factor in the life of the young Cammie Fowler, hearing impaired presumably since birth. Living alone with her mother, Cammie is looking for answers to a very specific question: What happened to her father? With nothing to go on but a book he’d left behind, she’s put together part of a picture. First of all, her father was skilled in the use of magic, an aptitude that seems to have been passed on to his daughter. Between her father’s notes and the help of a mentor named Ballard, Cammie’s developed her own set of skills in the magical arts. Those skills come in handy in this opening issue, as she seeks out the grimoire of a long-dead witch named Roberta Sangrey.

In Hedge, T. W. Conklin is tackling a complex piece of storytelling, representing Cammie as she navigates the mysteries of her family’s past and the underworld- both magical & literal- of Brooklyn, all without the benefit of hearing. Conklin accomplishes part of this by giving readers more open access to Cammie’s inner dialogue as she interacts with the world around her and the people in it. Where other comics would be showing conversations in word bubbles, we’re reading Cammie’s thoughts on the page combined with her part of the running dialogue through American Sign Language (ASL). To his credit, Conklin had the foresight to include the frustration of those trying to interact with Cammie without an understanding of ASL. Taking it one step further, Conklin lets Cammie experience that frustration as well, showing that she isn’t the saintly little waif some might expect in this kind of comic, and has a bit of a temper.

Carrying a large share of the storytelling load with a super impressive level of attention to detail is artist Joshua Bronk. In most comics, the artist just takes notes from the writer, and then makes the pretty pictures happen on the page. In Hedge, Bronk does that, and then goes above and beyond by drawing parts of Cammie’s dialogue through ASL. That should be a nice, seldom seen bonus for readers who do understand sign language, and it was kinda cool for me not understanding but trying to follow along with the help of the handy-dandy ASL alphabet shown on the first page. Even in the more mundane areas of character design, backgrounds, & panel layouts, Bronk’s artwork is pretty great and works very well for this kind of book. He really shows some chops as he presents the use of magic by different characters throughout the issue. In general, Conklin has presented a world where magic is handled through a combination of audible inputs- in this case whistles rather than the tropic “magic words”- while using a wand for focus. In Cammie’s case, audible spell components are pretty useless, so she resorts to a more physical presentation through a combo of complex hand gestures and dancelike moves. Where many artists seem to shy away from hands as a primary reference on the page, Bronk has put in the work and this comic reaps the benefit.

Lending a big assist in rounding out the look of Hedge, colorist Michael Woods brings out the best in Bronk’s lines. He gives the overall look of the book a very bright, often cheery feel, but balances that with good use of shadows to instill some foreboding in the comic’s more chilling moments. The best use of Woods’s skill comes in the uses of magic, Cammie’s in particular as she manifests brightly lit constructs to enact her will.

Finally, we have to do our diligence and give credit to letterer C. Docolomansky. As there are often three sets of individual dialogue happening on the page (Cammie’s thought, Cammie’s sign, & whomever Cammie’s talking to at the time), Docolomansky had a job and a half to keep it all straight. Whether the conversation is face to face, through texts, or with otherworldly denizens, everything moves over the page without overshadowing or interrupting the artwork.

Hedge is a comic that’s going to have a lot of appeal to a younger audience, I’d say ages 10 and up depending on reading level and how well they handle some creepy situations. Not to say that it wouldn’t work for older readers, but that it seems to have been laid out a little more straight-forward without much subtext. To be honest, there were times where I thought the dialogue was a little excessive and more could have been left up to the reader to catch on their own, but that’s more of a personal preference in my reading.

In the end, I’d say that Hedge is looking to be a fantastic chance for readers to experience an urban fantasy adventure through the eyes of a different kind of young hero. Cammie is fierce and determined, not without flaws, and she’s coming up against a magical society that reacts poorly when their territory is threatened. This is a solid opening to what could easily shape into a great story, told from a different perspective.

Final Score: 10/13

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