by Brendan Hodgdon. It is sometimes too easy to forget the stunning talent on display in the various international comics circles beyond North America. This is yet another area where Image Comics can provide a great service, by seeking out and importing not just international talent but their own original stories straight to your local comics shop. Crossing borders and strengthening connections amongst people is an essential function of all art, and it is gratifying to see a major publisher make the effort to ensure that potential is fulfilled.
The sprawlingly-titled The Terrible Elizabeth Dumn Against The Devils In Suits from Brazilian creator Arabson is one such exciting arrival. The successful newspaper cartoonist really swings for the fences in this piece, an extended one-shot story following the titular Elizabeth as she attempts to fight off the demons to whom her father has bargained her away. It is a great showcase for Arabson’s style and a strong mission statement. One hopes that it is just the first of many great international successes for the artist.
Beyond that, one hopes that this book can presage a much larger, more expanded attempt to connect different comics communities to each other. Arabson’s editor Klebs Junior mentioned in the press release announcing this title that their studio has “dozens of books for the US and European publishers… Stay tuned for even more coming [sic].” If Elizabeth Dumn is an indication of what’s to come, then it’s possible Image will be at the forefront, bringing its fellows to our shores in the months and years ahead.
Script & Art by Arabson.
Adaptation by James Robinson.
Colors by Anderson Cabral.
A Quiet Magic. Elizabeth Dumn, at its core, has the structure and personality of a fairy tale, or a piece of folklore: the human characters are broad and pseudo-mythic; the devil speaks in riddles packed with meaning; dramatic irony abounds. As an extension of this approach, the mythology of the story is loosely-defined. There are glimpses at the supernatural powers of this world, but overall these concepts are largely left obtuse. In doing this, Arabson keeps the focus on the characters and their struggle, while emphasizing the degree to which they are at the mercy of these inhuman, unknowable beings.
What we do learn about this world is that it is one of compromise and exploitation. Men make deals with the devil, and the women in their lives are often left with the consequences after the fact. There is false piety and a fear of the past etched into the faces of many of the characters, and those feelings are the direct result of the supernatural influences that hide in plain sight. This is the power that Elizabeth is attempting to resist, and it is defined in plain, uncomplicated terms unbound by any convoluted mythology.
Oh So Timely. While I’m sure Arabson has had this project in development for some time, there is no denying the timeliness of its release. A story of a headstrong young woman resisting the entitled machinations of patriarchal figures has the potential to be more than a little resonant these days. From the forced machismo in the interactions between the Devil and Elizabeth’s father to the necessary steeliness of Elizabeth and her various mother figures in the story, Arabson has keyed into a cultural moment with the dynamics that are here addressed and challenged.
At the same time, Arabson avoids being overly preachy in his messaging. He simply introduces complication into his characters’ lives and lets them each react accordingly. Arabson leaves it to his audience to judge the goings-on of this story, and in the process is able to give the narrative a more timeless feel, rather than hinging it on the specifics of current events.
Collaboration Is Key. While Arabson is the driving force of Elizabeth Dumn (and the book certainly has the ineffable quality of something made by a single creative voice), he does rely on two major contributors to help make this title what it is. One of these people is comic book writer James Robinson, who handled adapting the dialogue of the story into English. Robinson’s work in this regard is very good, and is in lock-step with the fairy tale atmosphere Arabson has established. From Elizabeth’s pugnacious brusqueness to the Devil’s intricate speechifying, it’s all packed with personality and telling detail. Robinson makes sure that nothing is lost in translation, and helps in making the final product such a fun read.
The other major contributor is colorist Anderson Cabral, who does tremendous work throughout the book. He captures the bright, natural colors of open fields and the dark shadows of a boarding school bunk room with equal ease. But then at the story’s more heightened moments, Cabral will douse an entire panel in deep, dark reds, or add an ominous merigold to the appearance of a demonic goat, all to drive home the emotions and dangers roiling within each image. Cabral’s colors are key to conveying the subconscious elements of these moments. He handles that responsibility with ease.
The Terrible Elizabeth Dumn Against The Devils In Suits is a great comic, but it is also a very welcome reminder of how important it is to experience art from other cultures. Even as Brazil has taken an ugly turn inward (much like the United States), it is art like this that can serve as a link between cultures. The work that Arabson, Robinson and Cabral have done here is hopefully just the beginning of a long and prosperous new level of comic book cultural exchange, one that will open up new worlds for artists and readers alike.
8.5 out of 10
Check out this four-page preview of ‘The Terrible Elizabeth Dumn Against The Devils In Suits’, courtesy of Image Comics!