Comic books are art, but it’s hard to integrate the actual art world into comics. Not a lot of readers, or even writers, can make the fanciful world of high culture readable. One day, I received an email that contained a review copy of Steven Christie’s Turtlenecks.
Turtlenecks is a funny, existential comedy with a lot of art references, art jokes, and in-jokes for those who like art. The story is a superb comedy satire of many different tropes, especially with the overcontemplation of belly buttons among artists. It’s a spirited story clearly full of Christie’s love and appreciation.
The Story and Writing of Turtlenecks: Artsy comedy at heart
Turtlenecks is a graphic novel published by AdHouse Books. The novel is written and drawn by Steven Christie.
“Turtlenecks is the story of an eager young art school student, Sam, who mistakenly turns his beloved flower necklace into an art object. Now it has been sold and he has no choice but to stage an elaborate performance art piece to steal his beloved flower back from the gallery. With his friends he forms the Turtlenecks, an art collective dedicated to performing conceptual art heists.”
From the blurb alone, it’s easy to see why Turtlenecks is such a fun, spirited experience of art school buddies. It seems much of the inspiration Steven used for the graphic novel came from his time in art school.
His satire is full of jokes done at the expense of art. Even then, it’s done in a way that shows how much he loved his time there. His writing is fun from start to finish, even if the plot takes a bit of time to develop.
What I love about Steven’s story is it’s both simple and complex at the same time. It’s simple because Steven did some proper worldbuilding for the story. He underscored the motivation of his protagonists and made them clear to us.
Many indie comic book writers get these parts either too short or too long. Steven hit the sweet spot for introducing Sam and Jules and their MacGuffin without overstaying their welcome. It’s equally as complex, offering different satirical characterizations for all his characters.
His art references can hit a snag for people who don’t like art, but that’s half the fun. Whilst I’m no fine arts student, I’m no slouch with art history. Even then, he had me searching the context for the jokes, which is crazy fun.
Personally, I connected more with a side character named Stacey than Sam and Jules. Even then, most readers will find a pet character for sure. All the characters Steven wrote are alive. They are living and breathing, which I love in comic books.
If there’s anything to criticise here, I wish Sam was a little bit more interesting than Jules. Jules, for all intents and purposes, is the false protagonist. She carries much of the exposition, even if Sam is the more talented between the two.
Sam needs a little bit more gusto, but he’s quite the complex character. I love them both, but Jules takes the cake for most of the story.
The Art of Turtlenecks: Picasso and Comic Strips in a Blender
The art of Turtlenecks is among the most unique I’ve ever seen. It combines the designs of art pieces with the fun styles of webcomics. It’s like Picasso meets Dilbert meets For Better or For Worse and it’s amazing.
First, much of the pencils and inks offer a nice, clean geometric design. Every panel can be an indie art piece, making the entire graphic novel a pleasure to read. Whilst the novel lacks shading, lighting, or filters, it is as crisp as it can be.
The colours feel handmade, evoking a coloured pencil fill with every character. The saturation for each page is always soft and subtle whilst the outlines are strong and solid.
The panelling is nothing special, but it definitely works. The panels follow a combo of rectangular panels, with varying sizes and positioning. Even then, Steven somehow got to move the story at varying paces. Action panels feel more frantic, whilst stealth panels feel slow and meticulous.
I can’t imagine how long these pages took him to finish. With the level of cleanliness, you’d think a team of pros did these pages. However, from the way they’re coloured, it’s apparent that a consistent single pair of hands worked everything out.
The art style isn’t for everyone, but it’s easy to find joy with how Steven did the entire graphic novel. For so much of the simple art design that he used, it’s some of the most compelling styles I’ve seen.
Should You Read Steven Christie's Turtlenecks?
Should you read Turtlenecks? Definitely, yes. The art and story are infallibly sweet and fun, with some of the most simple but enjoyable stories I’ve seen in a while. The novel presents the artistic mind of Steven Christie and shows how much heart he puts into his imagination.
You can buy Turtlenecks from the AdHouse Books website, coming out in May 2021. You can also give some of Steven Christie’s other works a look, including his first graphic novel, Arrowheads. It’s worth every dollar.
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