Thanks to Ross Campbell being an all around great guy, I've gotten an advance look at his new book, Shadoweyes In Love, forthcoming in April from SLG. Even better, Campbell has given She Has No Head! an exclusive 10-page preview as well as a peek at some never before seen Shadoweyes artwork. As if that wasn't enough, we've got a contest and some awesome prizes including a book and some original artwork. Read on for details!
I've been anxiously awaiting Ross Campbell's second volume of Shadoweyes because I loved the first and couldn't wait to see where he was going to go with his YA superhero tale which was nominated for a Glyph award, listed on CBR's top 100 Comics of 2010, and made YALSA's 2011 Great Graphic Novels For Teens list. Shadoweyes volume 1 didn't shy away from asking tough questions that modern superhero stories generally avoid, and I was excited to see if Campbell's second volume could push those questions even further. I was not disappointed.
Shadoweyes In Love continues the story of Scout Montana, a 17 year-old high school student with a good heart and a proclivity for activism living in the fictional city of Dranac. In Shadowyes Volume 1, which you can read about in detail here, community-minded Scout turns into a superpowered blue being after being hit in the head with a brick. With her new superpowered form and a serious sensitivity to light, not to mention the inability to turn back into her human form, Shadoweyes becomes a vigilante superhero. Her new role (and form) tests all of her relationships, as well as her feelings about right and wrong now that she has the power to do something significant about said rights and wrongs. In Shadoweyes In Love, Scout continues her vigilante ways, but her feelings about where she should draw the line looms ever larger as she kicks, punches, and stumbles her way into her new life. With new friends and love interests, as well as some serious moral hurdles in front of her, Scout is a superhero unlike many we get to see in comics, and its wonderfully exciting and exploratory work.
In Shadoweyes In Love Scout teams up to fight crime with Noah, her longtime crush and best friend Kyisha's boyfriend. The resulting love triangle creates a lot of apt teenage drama and suspense, and drives a lot of Scout's push and pull in this volume. Sparkle from volume 1 also gets a lot of page time as she and Scout develop a deep and loyal friendship that's a joy to read (see adorable-ness above). Sparkle also makes a play to become Scout's partner in crime-fighting, and does her best to resist feeling jealous about Scout and Noah's relationship, adding yet another dimension to the love triangle. Throughout the volume Scout tries to find her place as a superhero by doing everything from helping the disabled and freeing animals, to beating up people that offend her moral code. The irony of beating up someone for disagreeing with her isn't lost on Scout. Like any teen Scout is passionate and prone to both over-reaction and self-doubt, as well as a lot of conversations where she tries to figure her way out of truly complex choices that have no easy answers. It's all a part of Scout trying to discover herself and grow up in a sad and violent world that Scout feels continually frustrated by. When Scout and Noah encounter a truly horrific scene on one of their patrols, Scout reacts violently and in a way she didn't expect, a way that goes against the lines she's been trying to draw for herself, and it changes everything for everyone involved.
As always with Campbell's work, one of the biggest strengths are the fantastic visuals. Shadoweyes In Love is the latest example of Campbell's consistently stunning artwork - a fluid, confident style of storytelling that is equal parts function and beauty. Like his characters, Campbell's work has evolved over time. Though his published work has always been good, if you go back to early works, like Wet Moon Volume 1 it's almost shocking to see how much he has evolved as an artist. Shadoweyes is certainly his most accomplished work to date, and a work which pushes his world building and character design to new heights. Campbell's city of Dranac feels wholly realized from architecture to fashion - there's not a single mis-step to make you question his world, and it all functions as a beautiful stage for Shadoweyes to try to discover what kind of superhero she's going to be. As always, one of Campbell's visual strengths lies in his unique character designs, unlike so much of superhero comics, Campbell has lead characters of all shapes and sizes, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations - a truly diverse world, much more like the one we all actually live in rather than what generally seems to be reflected back to us through media. Campbell imbues his characters with fantastic well-rounded personalities - filling them with strengths and weaknesses that well reflect real people you might know. Heroes in Campbell's stories are just as fallible as anyone else and I love them all the more for it.
Following is an exclusive 10-page preview of Shadoweyes In Love. You can also see the first 30 pages of the book on SLG, here.
One of the most intriguing recurring aspects of Campbell's work to me, is that he's interested in very realistic storytelling, even when combined with fantastical elements like superheroes. Campbell has a good ear for realistic teen voices, and this volume is no exception. I suppose it's not a style that works for everyone, in that the teen dialogue especially reads as very real, and thus not necessarily the most poetic or polished, but the choice is clearly deliberate, and one that I really appreciate in a work like this that is about examining the very real sometimes unfortunate realities that would come with superpowers. Scout spends a lot of time in this volume talking about what she should and shouldn't be doing. There are several discussions about what superhero work should be about, if she's actually helping people, or if she's only making things worse. It's the kind of stuff that rarely gets discussed to this degree by characters, but gets discussed a lot in forums and fan reactions to stories, and it's an almost meta-aspect of Shadoweyes that I find fascinating. Shadoweyes feels a bit like it's breaking new ground in this way, even though it's new ground that seems like it should be obvious. Campbell also really allows Scout to still be a kid and thus she makes all kinds of mistakes and has all kinds of feelings about those mistakes, both positive and revelatory as well as negative and shameful. It's a wonderfully rendered portrait of the stuff that too frequently gets left in the gutters and between the panels of superhero work and Campbell tackles it with an energy and enthusiasm that's contagious.
Campbell has long been interested in questions of identity and self, and especially in regard to gender and sexuality, as is obvious in reading his work - whether it be the slice of life gothic Wet Moon, his gory zombie tale The Abandoned, or his wildly creative self-published Mountain Girl - and with Shadoweyes In Love he further expands on bringing those ideas to the superhero genre. By creating a superhero that was once a teenage girl, and still for all intents and purposes is one on the inside, but who loses all physical gender in her transformation into a superhero, Campbell opens up fascinating questions about gender, identity, and sexuality. And as the title of volume 2 indicates, Shadoweyes is in love, which adds even higher stakes to this YA action-oriented drama. Rarely do readers get to see a character that doesn't meet "pre-conceived beauty standards" fall in love, so it's a real treat to see a genderless pointy headed blue "creature" get the opportunity to fall in love too. Its a spin that delighted and surprised me, and it shouldn't because don't we all pretty much want love? Yet we usually only see it for a very small very specific aspirational kind of character, the kind of character that few of us look or feel like in life.
While it's Campbell's themes and subject matter that probably appeal to me most in the grand scheme of things, the work as a whole, from well-rendered characters and realistic teen voice, to the stunning visuals - comes together for me into one delightful superhero package, the kind I wish more comics would take a page from. Shadoweyes In Love moves seamlessly from realistic teen drama to vigilante crime-fighting to tell a painful and yet simultaneously hopeful story about life and love, and I can't wait to see what's next.
THE CONTEST! As many of you may know Ross Campbell and I have become friends over the last couple years, and as such there is something in the exclusive preview pages above that is a specific reference to me. The first person* to figure it out and email me your answer - at 1979semifinalist[at]gmail[dot]com - wins a copy of Shadoweyes Volume 1; an original Ross Campbell sketch (a headshot of a character of the winner's choosing**); as well as a sketch of Shadoweyes by yours truly. Yup, I draw. I'm okay, don't expect any Ross Campbell level gorgeousness...but the weird factor alone has got to be worth something, right?
So, get your entries in asap!
*I think in the interest of fairness, anyone that knows me personally probably is ineligible for winning the prize, though you're still welcome to submit a guess. What is the basis for knowing me personally? I have no idea...let's say if we've emailed each other more than half a dozen times then we know each other personally...how's that sound?
**Campbell says he'll draw any character of your choice, so long as it's not Capt. America or The Scarlet Witch.