Little Bird starts right away with violence, destruction, and tragedy, creating a beginning atmosphere that is immediately memorable and makes a striking impression. Rather than spend time explaining this world and what led to it, the story immediately sets a tragic tone that serves as a baseline for where the book leads — by the end, this opening seems relatively tame. Yet the violence and darkness never seems excessive or overwhelming. This is a tragic story that doesn’t pull its punches, but the story of Little Bird and the people of the North is powerful and full of meaning.
A stylistic trick that enhances the entire book is Ian Bertram’s use of panel borders to tell the story and develop the setting. There are three types of panels in Little Bird: the first kind are rough rectangles with non-uniform edges that permeate the majority of the book, the second kind are rectangles with completely straight edges that appear in certain settings, and the third are completely non-uniform and appear only during combat and action. The more defined rectangles specifically appear during scenes where the villains of the story have control — when they’re not in control, the panels appear rough and jagged, even in New Vatican. Combined with Aditya Bidikar’s choice to make word balloons that reach the edge of panels break the panel borders and open into the gutter, these panel layouts and designs tell their own story by interacting with the space between them.
Page layouts and panel structure aren’t the only merits the art team brings to the book. Matt Hollingsworth’s colors work alongside Bertram’s pencils and inks to create an incredibly immersive atmosphere to the whole book. The early scenes in the forest have more muted colors, bringing a sense of loneliness, while the scenes in New Vatican are made to look just the slightest bit creepy and sterile. This is immediately juxtaposed by the scene in the Northern Guard Penitentiary, which immediately shift palettes to an incredibly bright, almost pastel style. The book drastically shifts between color palettes like this based on each setting, and they all work perfectly to create an impression of the cultures and landscapes.
There’s so much style and skill baked into all the visual aspects of the book, and the writing matches all of those to create an incredibly powerful story. Little Bird is a story about family, and the ties that bind us together. It’s also a story about hope even in the darkest of places. The stories of Little Bird and Gabriel and Axe and Bishop and everyone else in the story intertwine for the majority of the story, but when they diverge it’s always incredibly powerful. As events from the past are revealed in the present, previous encounters and relationships are deepened further and further — Axe’s final stand reveals his true relationship with Little Bird, and turns what was already a tragic beat into something brutal. By the end of the fourth issue, Gabriel and Little Bird’s relationship, despite how short it was, is likely to bring one to tears. Little Bird’s mercy midway through the story comes back to bite her later on, but yet it’s incredibly difficult to hate the traitorous soldier because her own desires and emotions are just as visceral as the rest.
Another major theme of Little Bird is that of nature versus mankind. This ongoing juxtaposition is a common one in fantasy settings, but Little Bird turns it into a more science fictional narrative as well. The United Nations of America is framed as entirely manmade, down to the absolutely straight panel borders, as mentioned above. The North is natural — animals roam, people live outdoors, and the panel borders aren’t drawn with rulers. The world of Little Bird is one that was beautiful before Man came in and destroyed it all. Every part of America, down to its religion, is manmade in a way that nothing created by the North truly is. This world isn’t the way it is because one thing went wrong, this is the result of humanity going too far and turning everything monstrous. By the end of the book New Vatican has fallen, and it is not a bad thing at all.
Little Bird is a gutwrenching story that doesn’t hold back at all, and is incredibly powerful because of it. It’s a comic where each individual creator working on it is equally visible and contributes an incredible amount to each issue as well as the entire experience. Darcy Van Poltergeest, Ian Bertram, Matt Hollingsworth, Aditya Bidikar and Ben Didier have crafted a comic with so many layers that each rereading can bring something new to the forefront. This book is an absolutely stunning showcase of skill and craft, and is a must-read comic for everyone.