Meredith McClaren’s debut comic is breathtaking. In this first volume, we are born into a shadowed world of mystery as Orio, an animatronic young woman comes to life. At once she is thrown into the world, guileless and overwhelmed. She is bombarded with irrevocable life choices and career decisions right away and although she is provided a “liaison,” named Alluet to assist in finding a job, her acclimation is anything but smooth. When forced to choose an “odd,” (a cuddly-looking comfort companion) a pudgy, feline creature called “Bauble” chooses her. This mischievous and likely deadly little monster is revealed as the driving force for the first storyline as he wreaks havoc at every apprenticeship Orio is offered. He moves mysteriously, his unknown machinations endangering the society’s meticulously crafted safety.
McLaren conveys Orio’s disorientation with haunting and indisputably captivating art. As Orio remains practically mute throughout the book, the notable absence of dialogue allows McClaren’s visual storytelling to overwhelm each page. Her expert use of minimalist line in tandem with monochromatic coloring creates a clarity without which the world of Clockwork City could not exist with such eerie familiarity. The city McLaren builds around her two-dimensionally drawn figures is animated by effects that bend the space as if it were almost underwater. These striking shadowy effects cast over Clockwork City’s framework are often shown from overhead. This bird’s eye perspective creates an unsettling, voyeuristic effect, which proves potent in fostering a heightened and suspenseful tone.
Viewing the fragile, mannequin-esque dolls through layers of dense foliage makes it seem as if there are other spectators stalking Orio. This shade, along with Bauble’s meditative actions lends a most sinister atmosphere to Clockwork City. This sense of impending danger persists throughout Book One and is an attractive feature of the book as it entices my curiosity to unravel the world McLaren has built.
Clockwork City’s dystopian society functions as a machine, every character a unique but no less important cog in the small community of craftsmen and artisans. Alluet’s seemingly out of place optimism coupled with the City dweller’s obvious naivety further allude to an imminent threat. These doll-like creatures appear fragile, their porcelain skin and large round bolds exposing an inherent, childlike vulnerability. The characters’ dependence on their personal objects of affection belies this resemblance. Indeed, Orio and Baube’s relationship provides a central intrigue as he clings to her for cover and she grasps onto him as her only possession.
While Hinges may leave you feeling as lost as its heroine, enjoy McClaren’s beautiful dream that may turn nightmare with epicurean leisure. Although it works as a stand alone work, I’m eagerly anticipating Book 2 with the hope that Orio will be allowed room to grow into her voice as a heroine. In the mean time, check out Hinges as a web comic here and catch up on the continuing adventures of Orio and Bauble in Paper Tigers and The Mechanical Man.
– Meg Strickland