Review time! with <i>The Secret Origin of the Dust Elves</i> #1

"Mine's a tale that can't be told, my freedom I hold dear / How years ago in days of old, when magic filled the air"

A while back, Gordon Harris sent me a copy of Pedestrian, his self-published graphic novel. It's true! I reviewed it and everything! Now he has a new comic called The Secret Origin of the Dust Elves, which is a 4-part mini-series, and he sent me the first issue. It's a charming little comic - I mean little in the literal way, as the book is a bit over 5 by a little bit over 4 inches.

It's 36 pages long and costs $5. You can check out a preview of the book at the web site.

As this is the first quarter of a longer story, Harris spends the issue setting up the premise and only hints at what the three Dust Elves - the main characters - are really up to. He begins with an elf - a normal looking man, just one who's six inches tall - in the bedroom of two young girls, and he appears to be leaving one of them a note. However, when one of them wakes up and spots him, he bolts, and after the other one wakes up, leads them on a merry chase through their house and into the kitchen, where he disappears. Apparently, the elf - his name is Bob, we soon learn - is able to teleport once he gets to a dust bunny, and we pick up with him when he reaches wherever he has to reach. Two other elves - Kiddle and Fibble - are already there, and Harris gradually lets us know what the deal is with the three of them. Bob is upset because he didn't know there would be two girls - he was leaving a message for the wrong one, it seems - and because one of them asked where the elves come from, which apparently means they are bound to answer. This leads Kiddle to begin typing out an answer, which is apparently the "secret origin" part of the comic.

Harris does some interesting things to make sure the book has a lot of information. He uses prose quite a lot - the middle section of the issue is almost all prose - perhaps as a way to sneak an expositional conversation into the comic that isn't all the visually interesting. When Kiddle sits down at the computer to write his "secret origin," Harris combines the prose with visuals, as an elf sitting in front of a screen typing isn't that interesting, but what he's writing about certainly is.

The middle section doesn't have a lot of action, and the way Harris creates the conversation makes it easier to write prose, because he can control the narrative a bit better without worrying about choreographing the scene. In the first section, when Bob flees from the girls, there's a lot of action, and Harris does a very nice job doing some different things with the way the characters move through the house. When Kiddle sits down to type, he does a nice job with scattered panels showing the action, caption boxes showing what Kiddle is typing, and the prose section to show the three elves commenting on what he's typing. It sounds cluttered, but Harris does a nice job making sure it's not.

The three main characters are well done, because Harris makes sure they're just regular guys who happen to be elves. He gives a bit more away on the back cover than is in the book, so I'm not going to explain what they're doing, but Bob, Kiddle, and Fibble are obviously working-class elves - they were toiling in a laundry, if Kiddle is to be believed - and that helps ground the story a bit, because there's also some weird magical stuff going on as well. It's become more commonplace to have heroic stories with more "realistic" characters, so Harris isn't breaking any new ground, but so far, he's done a decent job making these compelling characters - they're friends, of course, so they bicker like friends, which, when done right, can be entertaining.

Harris's actual pencil work is nothing special, although it's certainly not terrible. His figures are a bit stiff, and he's not as good at motion as he will get, but he does a solid job. He does, however, lay a page out quite well, and his character designs are nice, too. In the opening sequence, he does a nice job revealing Bob's size and slowly shows him in relation to the objects in the room, which makes the impact of his stature more powerful. When the girls chase him, he does a very good job showing how they move from the bedroom and the upper floor to the kitchen and the lower floor, and Harris knows to leave the dust bunny alone in the frame so that its presence is more mysterious.

When he begins drawing Kiddle's story, he switches easily to a more whimsical tone, with olde-tyme houses, unicorns, and elves wearing bowler hats. It's a good switch, as it shows both the difference between where the story began and where it's ending and the difference between the "real" world and the elves' world. Harris colors the sections differently, too - he doesn't use a lot of color, but the "real" world is blue, showing both that it's nighttime and that it's a bit "heavier," while Kiddle's story is more red and pink, implying a more magical and odd world. It creates a good tone shift, which the book needs at that point.

I don't know how long it will take Harris to get the remainder of the series out, but it's off to a decent start. It teases some clever developments and is a good contrast between the mundane and the fanciful. In most stories with fanciful creatures, the blue-collar types tend to be working to fuel whatever magical business the magical folk get into, but why wouldn't there be a need for elves to work in a laundry? The fact that they're obviously playing hooky makes the book feel more exciting, and Harris, it seems, will delve into that more as the series goes on. I'm not sure I can say that I can't wait to see what happens, but I'm certainly curious!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

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