Friday, January 11, 2008

The Drowners #1

The Drowners #1, November 2003, New Flame Publishing
by Nabiel Kanan

Anytime I credit a single person for an entire comic book, as is the case for The Drowners #1 by Nabiel Kanan, I'm of two minds about the read's outcome. Most mainstream comic books are the result of a team's input, from the writer, to the artist (which often a penciller/inker partnership in itself), the letterer, the colorist, and the slew of editors that proof the piece before publication. (I'm excluding the more recent additions of cover artist and color separators to any given issue's credits . . . or I guess now I'm not, but you get the idea.) For any one creator to produce their own comic book, let alone a series, is an overwhelming undertaking, which could result in an incredibly potent piece of impassioned storytelling or a really watered down attempt at pop culture trite.

Fortunately, despite its title, Nabiel Kanan was not in over head with The Drowners. In fact, based on his credentials, which include an Eisner Award nomination and the single-handed creation of Lost Girl and Now & Then, these graphic solo missions are what Kanan excels in. (Of course, I only know if his bibliography thanks to the ads on the inside back cover and back cover proper, but, hey, I was impressed, so they did their job.)

The Drowners #1 is the beginning of a finely intertwined mystery orbiting James Quinn, the CEO of a billionaire media conglomerate teetering the end of its success. By this issue's end, we learn that Quinn may be responsible for a lady's drowning, which is being clumsily investigated by a Dr. Green, who appears to have a more emotional than medical investment in the case. One of Green's patients, Hayley, is a drug addict that owes her dealer payment in the form of prescription pills, and though she doesn't want to bring her sister, a nurse, into her seedy world, she often beseeches her for a fix. In fact, this issue begins with Hayley arriving on sister Stephanie's doorstep, a scene ironically smirk-worthy thanks to Steph's boyfriend (husband?) Paul's exasperated sarcasm. All this, and a wince-inducing scene in which Quinn's spoiled wife abuses their maid. The players are in place, and I'm left wondering how they mix in this cocktail of murder, money, envy, and sorrow.

Kanan's artwork is fantastic, a fine blend of brushstroke and graytone, with dynamic character blocking and strong moments of expressive plot progression. No panel is wasted as characters are promptly established and mood is seemingly effortlessly set, with almost a cinematic grace. While I'm tempted to liken some of his pages to Goff's from The Detective #1, since they both share echoes of genres from the past, I think a Darwyn Cooke comparison is more likely, with a bit more of a minimalist filter. Interestingly, that this inaugural issue is a series of talking head scenes almost goes unnoticed considering the rapid succession of the story, and though it takes Kanan the whole issue to show the reader how these characters are connected, the journey isn't too rocky or disorienting visually. I know I have his Now & Then #1 buried in my to-review box, and now I'm really looking forward to it.

No doubt about it, though: The Drowners #1 is a soap opera and should be approached as such, lest more mainstream comic book readers expect an action-packed type of murder mystery. If anything else, this issue is an excellent example of how a solo artist can accomplish the whole of the graphic sequential storytelling thing. Each player in a creative team really just dips their toe in, but Kanan dives in head first. It's refreshing.

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