In “8house: Arclight” #1 by Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland, a noble lady has switched bodies with an alien monster and lives in the borderlands of her kingdom, accompanied by a loyal knight, Sir Arclight.
Graham and Churchland don’t delve much into exposition, though, so few of these facts are obvious on the opening pages, and knowledge is doled out through snippets of conversation. The plot has a catchy premise, but it’s sidelined in favor of the world building. This is typical of Graham’s work, whether he’s the sole creator or partnering with Churchland or other artists. His work is usually visually stunning, with dense and surprising imagery, but it can take patience to follow. Characters often take a back seat to the world that they inhabit.
“8house: Arclight” #1 follows in this mold. In only a few panels, Graham and Churchland suggest an ancient world, rich in its own customs and history, with a unique flora and fauna as well as its own systems of governance and magic.
The opening landscape is gorgeous, especially with the startling streaks of pure white and black in the lower left corner. Graham and Churchland create a feeling of broad spaces under the open sky, in contrast to the crowded party scene later in the story. The scene that introduces the two main characters contains little dialogue, but Graham and Churchland reveal the friendship between Arclight and the Lady as they use blood magic together.
The art is dense but uncluttered, and Churchland and Graham layer pencil-like linework over stretches of color that are flat and opaque but look slightly translucent in the paler hues. Their use of light and color is splendid, especially in the opening shot of the mountains and in the first glimpse of Cserce-Mista, Heart of the Blood City and Sir Arclight’s home. As dusk approaches, the warm eggshell sky shifts into peaches, then purples. The cool gray of buildings in the approaching night is especially evocative. One feels chilly just looking at it.
The glimpse of the lady’s new home is cozy but doesn’t have the magic of the forest or the view of the city. The tense conversation between Arclight and Nowak offers a different look at the loyal knight. Graham and Churchland’s facial expressions are sufficient to convey emotion, but they aren’t quite strong enough to give the scene more than a passing wrinkle of interpersonal tension. Compared to the blood magic ritual, the party scene is numbing, but it does advance Arclight’s characterization a little as well as moving the plot along.
Graham is a creator with a distinctive narrative style. His work is always original and worth checking out, but one has to either be in the right mood for its lavish, slow pacing or develop an acquired taste for his unconventional alternative storytelling priorities. “8house: Arclight” #1 is another example of jewel-box-like world building.