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Beast (Image Comics)

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beast_header.jpgElephantmen artist Marian Churchland's first solo effort offers eye-pleasing art and a solid story that doesn't quite connect. 

  152 pgs. full color; $15.99
(W / A: Marian Churchland)

Beast is the first full length graphic novel written and illustrated by Marian Churchland, who you might remember from her collaboration with Richard Starkings on Elephantmen: Damaged Goods. Beast is a somewhat haunting tale that forces a young struggling artist named Colette into a tale of heartache and longing that goes back several centuries to Renaissance Italy.

Colette gets a mysterious commission to sculpt at a creepy house on the bad side of town. Her client is a shadowy figure named Beast who seems to enter a room ethereally from the walls. He has a large block of marble for Colette to work with that goes back several centuries, along with a sad tale of how he came into ownership of the marble. Despite her fears and concerns about Beast's true nature, Colette stays at the house for the next several weeks and works on the sculpture until the job begins to consume her, thus falling deeper into the Beast's shadowy world.

The cover to Beast by Marian Churchland. Click for a larger image.The art in Beast is excellent. Churchland's lines are strong, pleasant to the eye, and let the images of each panel come out clearly. There is never any confusion about what is going on in any particular scene. The art also has much depth and texture, and gives the reader a subversive feeling that allows you to enter the story more completely. At times, you actually begin feel the loneliness and dreariness of the moment, the cold chill of the outside weather coming right through the drafty old windows of the house. Churchland draws lovely, appealing women but does not betray her gender by over-sexualizing their bodies, Instead, she giving them a natural, charming quality that lets you empathize with them even more.

The story is where this book struggles a bit. The concept is interesting and it has a clever ending, but the overall work seems incomplete. You are often left wondering why characters are doing what they are doing; you assume there will be answers for the questions the book raises, but at the end you realize none of them have been answered. There is a side love story that seems sort of pointless, and an overall lack of character depth other than what is seen in the art itself. Churchland's setup left the potential for so much more when it came to plot and story, but she never quite gets there. I think she intentionally left some room for the reader to make their own interpretations, but she might have left a little too much room.

Despite my issues with the script, I still liked the overall work and I think this was a good first solo effort by the creator. Churchland has very strong visual narrative skills and it could be that that she leans too heavily on her art to tell the story and forgets to fill in the gaps and background with the script. The book is still a pleasure to flip through and I spent much time studying the scenes. It's a nice book to leave on the coffee table when company comes over. I will be looking forward to more books from Churchland in the future as it is obvious this is just the beginning of what she can do as sequential storyteller. | Ryan Parker

See the related links below for a 4-page preview of Beast.

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