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Sunday, 31 January 2010

Black Orchid

Writer: Neil Gaiman
Art: Dave McKean
Letters: Todd Klein

What's it about?
Published under DC's Vertigo imprint, this is a book for mature readers.  Historically, Black Orchid is a superhero, but this is not really a superhero book.  Black Orchid is a plant/human hybrid and within the first few pages she dies.  Then we meet the new Black Orchid.  This new version is unaware of her origin, the previous Orchid's history and is totally ignorant of her place in the world.

This book chronicles her life from the moment of consciousness to the moment where she experiences acceptance and knowledge of herself.  Along the way she comes across a lot or nasty characters, yet manages each situation with grace and gentle control.

Neil Gaiman is the author of such books as American Gods, Nevermore, Smoke and Mirrors and The Wolves in the Walls.  The latter is a children's book (although this grown adult found it scary) and is also illustrated by Dave McKean, artist for Black Orchid.  If you have come across The Wolves in the Walls, or The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, you will know what a delight it is to see these two work together.  If you don't know them, you're in for a treat.

What's good about it?
My clumsy prose will not be able to come near to describing the grace of this book.  Where my writing it short and stuttering, Black Orchid is fluid and all enveloping, a near perfect combination of art and words.

The introductory blurb talks about how much this book changed the rules of comics and how it set a  new standard for the medium.  Ignore this, it is not important.  What is important is the care and depth of thought that has gone into producing it.

This book sucks you into it's world and consumes you.  It's not a superhero book although you might spot some familiar faces or names, however it doesn't matter if you don't recognise them.  Every character in the book is treated with respect and you get to know each one.  No one is included 'just because'.

What's bad about it?
I really don't think there is anything bad in this book.  The art may not be to your taste, McKean uses a photo realism style which some people dislike.  The story might not appeal to you but that isn't so much a fault of the book as it is an example of different tastes.

What's the art like?
Linking to the plant based nature of our heroine, the main colours used within the book are purples and greens.  Blacks and greys are also used, mostly for when humans are inside their dull inorganic homes.  When the scenes shift outside the colours become more vivid and are comprised of the purples and greens mentioned above, as well as some some truly textured blues for the skies and the depths of the rainforest, and oranges for the sun and the autumn leaves.  This is the sort of colouring that you can sink into and it is one of the more outstanding features of the book.

Each page is comprised of either 8 or 6 panels, longer than they are wide and designed to be read in blocks of 4 (or 3), top row then bottom row, left page the right page.  The background to each page is designed to fit in with the events occurring on panel.



Other information
This doesn't seem to be in print at the moment, but you will be able to pick it up from ebay or Amazon's private sellers.  I would expect to pay no more than about £12 for a brand new copy.  If you do choose to go down this route, check that you are buying the collected edition and not an individual issue, as the book was originally produced in 3 monthly parts.  If you are unsure what you are buying please feel free to contact us to ask for help.

ISBN: 0930289552 or 1852863366 (Amazon is providing differing information)

This book does feature some violence and nudity, so you may not wish to read it at work.  Rest assured the nudity is not sexual.  There are also subplots concerning domestic violence.  Some readers may find this upsetting.

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