Out of the Mouths of Children’s Games
When something truly horrible happens, the human animal has long been in the habit of creating a piece of work to make sense out it. Picasso had his Guernica. Anne Frank had her diary. The children of the black plague chose a catchy singing game to make sense of the horror unfolding around them. Or so popular folklore would have it…
Ring Around the Rosie #0 is a collaboration by four of Australia’s most prolific current creators: Rob Lisle, Leigh Chalker, Ryan Vella and Ben Sullivan. It takes the popular conception around the song as both its title and mise-en-scène.
When Pandemics Meant Business
Set in France in the early 1700s, Ring Around the Rosie #0 introduces us to (of course) Rosie – the centre of our tale. We learn a little of her back story and see where she stands amongst the authorities and the common people of her plague-ridden town. We also bear witness to pivotal events in Rosie’s life that pave the way for the future of her family.
This book has the look of a scene-setting origin story, and it very much reads that way. There is also very much a sense of an outpouring of creative excitement, as the four involved find a synergy that makes this hybrid product into a seamless whole. A sense of what this means to the creators can be found in a heartfelt text piece explaining the genesis of their unique collaboration. Rosie will be back it seems, It says so right there.
Story and Art
Scripting, as well as lettering, for this book is handled entirely by the increasingly prolific Rob Lisle. In what seems a deliberate choice, a book set in a foreign land and a distant time has been transliterated such that captions and dialogue reflect a very current and very Anglo-Australian vernacular. This serves to ground and comfort the reader as we are taken through some very harrowing and confronting events.
The artwork. On the other hand, does not seek to soothe. In a move that is clever if it is deliberate, the artists of these connected chapters change in a rotation – a “ring a round o’ artists”, if you will. The first chapter is pencilled by Chalker and Inked by Vella; the second, pencilled by Sullivan and inked by Chalker; the third, pencilled by Vella and inked by Sullivan.
Apart from the neat circular symmetry of this arrangement, more importantly, it enables a consistency of style and mood across the three chapters. Artistic individuality remains but does not jar the reading experience.
And that reading experience is grim. The black plague is no light subject matter and the events woven around it by the creators are no less dark and deadly. In perfect synergy with the subject matter is Chalker’s love of black ink – and lots of it. Both in the amazing level of detail poured into every panel, and the liberal use of fields of black for night scenes (or just for contrast), Chalker spares no ink in setting the macabre tone required. The other artists follow suit, matching the tone and style with ease but without sacrificing their own unique qualities. Such a collaboration runs a clear risk of appearing as three different stories but the result here is a smoothly flowing narrative, as the story demands.
Having brazenly stolen the title of these concluding thoughts from the editorial page, I will attempt to give back by saying that this could be the start of something fascinating. Whether the schedules of four very busy creatives can be synchronised often enough to maintain a reasonable release schedule remains to be seen. But if Ring Around the Rosie #0 is any indication of what we may expect from coming episodes, the future of this title is Rosie indeed (sorry, last time, I swear…). Buy this book and discover the irony in my lame pun.
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