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Fantasy Meets Minimalism in ‘From Under Mountains’ #1

Fantasy Meets Minimalism in ‘From Under Mountains’ #1


From Under Mountains #1
Art and colors by Sloane Leong, 34-35 by Brandon Graham
Story and script by Claire Gibson
Cover and story by Marian Churchland
Letters by Ariana Maher
Published by Image Comics

From Under Mountains #1 has magic, demons, familial struggles, murder, mystery, and a whole lot “Um, so what’s it about?” Gorgeous art meets minimalist storytelling in this new series from Brandon Graham’s 8House imprint.

From the cover to the interior artwork by Sloane Leong, and  the final world map by Brandon Graham, From Under Mountains delivers the amazing artwork characteristic of 8House. Sloane Leong’s simplistic pencils and layouts are bolstered by lush coloring. The most impressive example would have to be the first ten pages. In the desert, an old woman conjures a shadow creature from the skeleton of a small animal. Her shadow fuses with the skeleton, and the creature slowly takes form, seeming to feed of the sorceress’ own life force until he becomes as tall as a man and disappears with the dagger given to it. The scene is  dream-like and implies sinister intentions. What the art may lack in detail, it makes up for powerful symbolism and tone.



The rest of the book takes place in Karsgate, a desert kingdom built upon mountains. Karsgate is an interesting fusion of western and eastern influences. The architecture looks like a cross between the Incan empire of Machu Picchu and ancient Baghdad. Clothing has a similar fusion and differentiates between classes. The royalty wears nicely knitted tunics with yellow threaded lines along the collarbone and neck. Royal women have casual wear exposing arms and midriff. The characters’ armor resembles the make of European knights with metal plates for the body and chainmail for limbs. The lower class of Karsgate wears shabbier clothing, baggy and seemingly too big for them. Their colors are plain, somber, and simplistic in design, indicating that either they make it themselves or do not have the money for better clothes. A great amount of detail is taken into making characters look unique, and it’s a shame that the environments are neglected.

Despite the interesting exterior architecture of Karsgate, the interiors are plain with only a few details. Sometimes, they are non-existent and simply shades of colors. By focusing so much on the characters, Leong does not give space to show off the world they live in. The simplicity of the art ultimately backfires and leaves the reader feeling that Karsgate is plain. The fantasy genre depends on world-building, which means every aspect of the world has to be unique: people, buildings, clothes, natural environments, culture, politics, etc. If an aspect feels neglected or non-existent, it can result in a world that, although interesting, is unfulfilling.

What could be undermining From Under Mountains‘ world-building, and arguably that of all the 8house books, is the minimalist storytelling. The story is told by throwing the reader in the middle of the action without explanation to where the scene is, who are the characters, or how they are connected. Things happen, some dialogue is spoken, and the reader is forced to figure out what is going on. While it’s a unique approach, it does not work well. In fantasy, one should immerse the reader. Forcing them to figure things out without much information establishes a barrier, and a reader can lose interest when they can’t attach themselves to the world and characters. Minimalism would be more effective if Gibson and Churchland provided some kind of background info, either for the characters or the world. It would not have to be much: short character biographies, introduction to the world, or the Mad Max: Fury Road approach where a protagonist with a back-story and some world knowledge can help guide the reader along. If the art was more detailed, it could provide visual clues.  The minimalism might have been done better if From Under Mountains was released as a short graphic novel series similar to manga collections, in which case the longer the reader reads, they more time they have to figure things out. As is, From Under Mountains is a pretty package too abstract for its own good.



Of course, this is a matter of taste. Depending on how one likes storytelling, minimalist or maximalist, some readers will provide the patience to continue reading the series, or are willing to stick around for the art alone. Despite the extreme minimalist story, From Under Mountains remains a unique comic in the audacious 8house series, and will satisfy anyone looking for something different.

Final score: 7.0/10.0