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Shadow Play
posted March 31, 2011

imageCreator: Chad Sell
Publishing Information: Self-Published, softcover, 154 pages, 2011, $8
Ordering Numbers: Available Here

Imagine the comics story a lovesick Lynd Ward or Frans Masereel might have handed to a cute girl in the back of study hall, and you have a grasp on what Chad Sell has accomplished with his silent comic Shadow Play. Make that a precocious, lovesick version of one of those two artists. The craft elements are generally high in Shadow Play; anyone that wants to read a story reasonably well-executed page to page without inspired visual flourishes save for a half-dozen moments should be made to feel as if this book is for them. The drawing starts strong and remains that way. There's a never a moment's doubt as to what we're seeing and why, which is an additional accomplishment given how much of the work relies on scale. Some of the more design-conscious effects, including a recurring motif that involves a flock of birds that create white space and dark space, are outright lovely.

The story the obviously talented cartoonist chooses to tell is a playground parable, elements of which might have seemed old-fashioned in the 1950s. There are bullies and there are uncaring adult figures, and both of them heap abuse upon our sensitive hero's head. He gains a coping mechanism in the form of being able to manipulate his shadow, a portentous symbol of... well, something. Repressed rage? Creativity? Inner value? They prove useful in gaining a sort of imagined revenge that in tragic fashion fails to last and much less so in providing sustained happiness. As much as actual changed circumstance seems to be on the table it would appear to belong to the purer form of expression, an expression of natural beauty building ]our hero sees in evidence when he stops to look at something outside of his own experience. That's not a bad lesson, although by failing to break away from formula or even letting us know the author is aware of the restrictive nature of the cliches he puts to use, Shadow Play is a book that promises better and more engaging comics to come more than it suggests an early career high point.