For those of you who read my columns and reviews regularly (hi Dad), it should come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft. So when I found out that Ben Templesmith was running a Kickstarter for a graphic novel adaptation of the short story Dagon, I couldn’t throw my money at the campaign fast enough.
[Editors Note: read this week’s interview with Ben Templesmith here!]
While looking over some of the rewards and comments by other happy backers (it funded in less than a day and is already racking up stretch goals), I noticed a lot of references to another successful Kickstarter by Templesmith for a book called The Squidder. It was about an old soldier from a war against an invading (and very squiddy) alien race that the humans lost. It was written and drawn by Templesmith and looked interesting, so I figured I’d check it out at some point in the future.
Flash forward to a couple weeks later at a local book store. Just as I’m about to leave, I decided to do my routine and habitually fruitless scan of the graphic novel selection. This time, however, I notice The Squidder sitting on the shelf and decide to give it a look before going home. Ten pages in, I made a decision to that age old question we like to ask here at AiPT: Is it good?
The Squidder (IDW Publishing)
Templesmith is mostly known for his art, and rightfully so. The guy knocks it out of the park on everything he does. But let’s hold off on that for a moment and go back to the script and plot. Like I said before, ten pages in was all it took for me to make a decision…and that was to forgo waiting for it to be shipped from an online retailer. I decided to overpay right then and there at the store because I NEEDED to read and own this book.
The story of The Squidder is beautifully complex in its detail, but wrapped in an elegantly simple narrative. It borrows from a lot of well-worn sci-fi plot tropes (dystopian future messiah figure, good man turned mercenary after losing a war, etc), but never feels derivative or stale thanks to Templesmith’s excellent world building. He also doles out the background information (both about the world and the characters) in deliberate, well-timed doses, keeping us always wanting to know more without allowing things to get muddy or confusing.
The chronology of the book makes it a perfect candidate for highly enjoyable rereads. Once you’ve got the entire picture of The Squidder universe, going back to the opening chapters gives you a very different perspective.
The Squidder is a badass. It would have been easy to rest on that and simply make him fun to read, but Templesmith makes sure that he’s also a very flawed and tragic hero. His relationship with Seph, which is also wonderfully written (with one major misstep that we’ll address later) helps to both illuminate and heal the broken portions of his humanity.
But where Teamplesmith’s writing really shines is how he handles the villains. Yes, there is an evil squiddy overlord (the Dark Father) that wants to do horrible things to people (like make sculptures out of their still living bodies) and rules over the earth with an iron fist. But then there’s the Big Bad’s right hand, Queen Unit 59B. She is also very evil…and enjoys torturing humans…and rules over the earth with iron fist. But she also wants to be free of the Dark Father to maintain her ability to have independent thoughts. This not only creates another (highly entertaining) thread of conflict, but also gives a much needed ‘human’ aspect to the bad other side of the narrative coin.
It’s easy to write villains that revel in how evil they are, twirling their mustaches while cackling about taking over/destroying the world. It’s much more difficult (and more rewarding for the reader) to write them so that they feel completely justified and righteous in their actions.
When it comes to my personal taste in pencilers, I am an unabashed fan of the Jim Lee/Mark Bagley/Bryan Hitch/Steve McNiven style artwork. I like my lines clean, clear, and grounded. I still appreciate highly stylized work and often times even enjoy it, but it’s definitely not my preference…which means that Ben Templesmith should definitely not be one of my favorite artists, but he is.
One major reason for that is his storytelling ability. Templesmith’s pencils may have a fever dream quality to them, but he’s not just scratching random lines everywhere. The characters’ faces and movements each carry a well of emotion, intent, and consequence on each panel. Just one look or expression gives the reader more than any word bubble or narration box could.
Templesmith also has a great sense of motion and kinetic flow in The Squidder’s many action sequences, all of which are complimented by well-timed shifts in the story’s scale and scope.
What Doesn’t Work
Not much, but I did have a few minor quibbles.
Like I said before, I really liked the dynamic between The Squidder and Seph. So when the story suddenly has her say (paraphrase) “I need you to sex my rockin’ body so that I can immediately give birth to a magic sword that will help you save the world,” it felt a bit like a betrayal of what had come before.
I also thought the ending, though still dark, was a little too much on the Spielberg/happy side of things. But on the plus side of both those negatives, the very last page uses them to attain a haunting/romantic tone that’s very effective.
You don’t find many people at this level in the profession who can simultaneously draw and write so well. The Squidder reveals that Templesmith has so much talent in both those areas that it’s almost unfair. Not only is he an amazing artist, but he can craft one hell of a good tale. This isn’t ‘good writing for an artist’ good, but just flat out, really damn good.
He also walks a fine line between keeping things interesting (via careful information rationing) and satisfying the reader’s hunger with great character moments and development.
Add in the usual great artwork that Templesmith is known for, and you’ve got a book that is totally worth paying full cover price for at the bookstore…or ordering at a slight discount online. Whatever you do, just make sure that you get this wonderful book in your hands as soon as possible if you haven’t already.