(Uproar Comics, 2015)
Written by Danny McLaughlin
Art by Adam Pescott
Lettering by Dannii Coyle
The Ballad of Half Hanged MacNaughten is, at it’s core, a love story. A “Romeo and Juliet” esque story as the creators mention in the postscript. It is a period piece, which is a reworking of a local legend in Londonderry, England. Being from the states, I was not familiar with this tale, and found it quite enjoyable. From a writing standpoint, the story flows well, and is paced accordingly to make you feel you are being guided to towards the end of the story on a well thought out path.
The postscript mentions taking some liberties with the tale, but being new to it, I don’t have a clue what those liberties are. I’m not really all that concerned either come to think of it. The story was solid whether it was accurate to the legend or not. And legends are almost by definition, malleable.
The Character of MacNaughten, or “Mac” is an interesting one. He is at the same time a lover, and a charmer, getting involved with Mary, a girl from his youth that he has since rediscovered her as a grown woman, and a beautiful one at that. The flip side of the lover boy persona, is the scheming, and conniving gambler that gets in over his head and finds himself at times without means, and at times desperate. He is “from privilege” so he is not a commoner. Yet he seems like a man who will stoop to “common” tasks when it suits his needs. He seems alternatively at the end of his rope at times (no pun intended) and also on the ball, running a scam or hatching a plan at other times. This back and forth, for me left it unknown how this was going to play out. We knew both from the title itself and the first page that he is eventually caught and charged for something pretty serious, but until the climax plays out, we really are left guessing what that was.
Mary is less interesting as a character. She is basically around for Mac as a love interest, and plot device. She seems fairly one-dimensional. This may be more a function of using the legend, and less a failing of the creative team. Other characters include Knox, Mary’s father, and Calhoun, the father’s hired hand. There is also Mac’s friend Dunlop who is drawn into the scheme to help Mac win Mary. Really as far as the other characters are concerned, they exist to further the plot for Mac and Mary. Given that this is a one shot, it’s not surprising that the supporting cast is doing just that, supporting the plot and moving it forward.
The drawings were very well done. The art style is interesting in that it is at times very digital looking, and at other times looks pencil drawn. The look of the book is very soft. There really is no pure blacks or pure whites found anywhere in the art. It is all grey tone. But nothing is muddled looking or sketchy. Everything has volume and shape and the characters’ bodies and costumes are well thought out and depicted accurately. You can tell that the artist, Adam Pescott, is doing professional level work. He is also doing his homework in terms of depicting the world of 1700’s England. At least as far as this modern day American can tell. All the character designs are distinct enough to follow who is who at all times. He can evoke some really nice imagery when needed. Like a sunset over the water, which although you could make the case that it is a touch cliché, is kind of needed to some extent to tell the kind of love story they are telling here. It doesn’t feel cliché I guess because of the period it is set in. I enjoyed the pictures throughout. Pescott has a high level of craft. I would be interested to see where he goes from here.
One thing about the art that I didn’t love was the lettering. It worked 90% or the time for me, in that it was always clear who was talking and in what order, but I just felt like maybe due to the font choice, or due to the shapes or arrangements of the balloons, it had a slightly novice look to it. I think it was an appropriate level of skill given that it is a smaller indy company that released this book. I think I just have a hang-up about lettering because in my own work, I find it lacking. Good lettering is harder to accomplish than one may think until you have tried it and seen what novice lettering really looks like. I also remember some quote from Scott McCloud about how good lettering really can make or break a book in terms of looking “pro”. So I think about that when I see lettering that lacks in some way. It doesn’t distract from the charm of the book, I just noticed it as something that is less effective than the drawing and writing.
When I spend a whole paragraph nitpicking the lettering, you can tell there isn’t much to dislike about this book. Solid writing, solid art, an interesting plot based on legend. A protagonist that is an interesting person to follow. It has everything you need in a single-issue comic. I have seen many pro level “big two” books fail on one or more of those qualities. Seeing an indy title with lesser known creators crank out a solid book like this gives me hope that there are great creators out there, and more and more of them are finding vehicles to showcase their talent. Vehicles like the Ballad of Half Hanged MacNaughten.