Last year Jesse Lonergan sent me a copy of his comic HEDRA to take a look at. HEDRA is a 48-page science fiction comic printed on newspaper sheet. At first the comic puzzled me. Newsprint comics are both common and rare. It is common to see syndicated comics printed in the local newspaper. The funnies section of the paper was a staple of my childhood. But it is odd to see self-published comics on newsprint.
There are disadvantages to using newsprint. Newsprint uses a high-volume, high-speed printing method. Pages often have registration errors and blurred inks. The ink is dusty, the pages are easy to tear, and the paperstock of newsprint isn’t durable. But, there are advantages to using newsprint. The page size is much larger than the traditional comic, and the price to print is low. There’s also an inhereted nostalgia to the material. As a reader I remember lazy Sunday afternoons poring over the funny pages; newsprint comics immediately bring that sensation back to me.
Lonergan uses the format’s strengths to his advantage in this wild space adventure. HEDRA takes the classic newsheet and turns it 90 degrees, making it read like a traditional book. In it, a woman pilot races across the galaxy attempting to find a new homeworld after nuclear war on Earth. During the journey, she sees a mysterious giant following her ship, and touches down on a nearby planet to meet him. But, before they can meet, both spacefarers are attacked by the native people on the planet. Longergan’s narrative extends from there in unexpected ways. The storytelling is classic sci-fi, and HEDRA is a fun read.
Lonergan’s comics work inside a 5×7 grid that is a hallmark of HEDRA. The grid is the most interesting feature of HEDRA, and Lonergan experiments with it throughout the comic. Because the layout is large and unconstrained, Lonergan has the space to explore. In some pages, Lonergan fills outer panels with geometric shapes and symbols. In others, Lonergan uses the grid to show the main character exiting her spacecraft. Sometimes the grid’s dark lines disappear, but sliced rock formations show their imprint. In some ways, the use of these panels shows movement and passing time. Lonergan uses dark panels with white lines cut through them to show movement. Throughout the book, Lonergan uses gutters and the paneling to guide the reader’s eye.
Not all of the experiments in HEDRA work, though. In one dense page, Lonergan uses darkened panel borders to try to guide the eye in a maze-like pattern. This is an experiment that could have worked in a less detailed comic, but the busy background images obscured the darkened panel borders. The comic has some other issues that keep it from being outstanding. As I mentioned before, newsprint has problems with registration errors, and HEDRA is no exception. The print is blurry at times. This is part of the price Lonergan paid to get the size and format of HEDRA. Overall I think it was a smart price to pay.
Despite some failures, HEDRA manages to be a strong and engaging comic. Lonergan’s visual experimentation is always in the service of storytelling, and the results are always interesting, and sometimes spectacular. HEDRA’s visual language and newsprint format make it a comic that stands out.
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