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Saturday, 2 April 2011


Created, Written and Drawn by: Doug TenNapel
Colorists: Joe Potter and Katherine Garner
Publisher: Fireman Press Ltd (issues)/Image Comics (tpb)

What’s it about?
Gear is a fantasy/scifi tale done by the very talented famous cartoonist Doug TenNapel.

Now, in case you haven't been introduced to TenNapel before, let me do it for you;
Doug TenNapel is an American cartoonist best known as the creator of the video game and cartoon character Earthworm Jim, which has now been turned into a very popular franchise. He has worked on various mediums over the years including cartoons, comics and games. He designed the look of the adventure game The Neverhood and worked on the Nickelodeon cartoon Catscratch, which was very loosely based on this very comic.
And most recently he worked on the internet live mini-series Go Sukashi! and Sockbaby.

Gear takes place in a very unique fantasy world where there lives a lot of anthropomorphic animals.
There, the various factions (species) are in wars over their borders. The cats in the south are trying to expand their land, while the dogs in the north are turning their defenses into offensive forces. Meanwhile an army of insects is preparing to invade both.

The story follows a group of four cat "soldiers". Waffle, Mr. Black, Simon and Gordon. They aren't the smartest bunch of the cat troops but they've got heart and good intentions.  One time they happen to high-jack one of the Guardians - mysterious robotic totems in the forms of either cats or dogs.
But when things seemed to be going fine everything starts falling apart quickly... The troops are launched, the insects attack and our team gets caught in-between.

There's also a mysterious artifact everyone seems to be after called "gear" which seems to have strange powers over the Guardians and our cats befriend one of the insects, Chee.
What is good about it?
The story seems to be all over the place, and it's the kind of story that opens in medias res (literally, the middle of things); we're thrown in the middle of this strange place right from the start, but it's one of the reason I particularly like Doug TenNapel's writing. He's able to craft a complete little universe in a few pages so by the end of his books you'll always find yourself a bit sad to leave. It's something you'll want to go back to, at least just to see how well crafted the plot was and how all the clues were hidden in the early pages. In this respect, Gear is no different from his usual work.

This story is easily accessible with TenNapel's cartoony art style, but he manages to throw in some deeper aspects and plotlines. Like most of his work, it's a book both aimed at children and (young) adults as well.  Thus, Gear manage to discuss border politics, the relation to foreigners/other cultures and even has a little religious aspect (nothing to read too much into, don't worry, but there is some imagery, see picture below)

Also, a little trivia: since Doug TenNapel's well known for his love of stop motion animation, most of his characters in this book (such as the giant guardian robots) were designed as clay figures, which gives this very simple art style and a tendancy towards round figures.  Most covers were actually photos of 3D sculptures, with details painted over.

All in all, it's a story about friendship, with giant robots fighting over politicical borders and a bit of thought on the afterlife.

What is bad about it?
Doug TenNapel isn't what you'd call a "mainstream" artist and his art style won't please everyone.  It's highly stylized (more on that on another book that will feature humans some other time).  Also, the audience, his audience isn't clearly defined.

On one hand it looks childish enough for younger children and therefore not really suited for a mature audience, on another it is pretty dark (in themes and creature designs) and is quite word-heavy.
I'd say kids who already enjoy reading comics and older readers who want to try something different from what Marvel or DC offers should check it out.

If you were a fan of the cartoon Catscratch, be prepared to find something completely different than what you may be expecting. It does feature the same four cats...but they won't manage to be exactly the same innocent felines they were back in page 5 at the end of this journey.

Also, the titular character called "Gear" doesn't appear that much:

And yes, it's a detail that annoys me a little.

What’s the art like?
TenNapel's art style varies over his different pieces of work, but remains recogniseably his.  The characters are caricatured. The shapes cartoony.

This book was entirely drawn with Japanese brushes. TenNapel used to give himself challenges while crafting stories, so this is the comic he did entirely with Japanese brushes!

The coloring manages to capture perfectly the mood according to the situation. It's very simple, light on gradients and closer to painting. It works great in this book.

When required by the plot, there are some "scary" moments, this sometimes gives a more serious tone to these cartoon character.

This is one of this comic's strongest points!

Other information
Doug TenNapel's Gear
160 pg Colors Softcover in Digi format
Priced at approximately £9.89
ISBN 1582406804

If you liked
Be sure to check more of Doug TenNapel work (which I'll try to cover on some other posts)

On similar subjects and and using the same type of art style & tone, check out:
Flink A story of a boy and his Bigfoot
Power Up A man who gets video game powers with an old console

And if you want to try one of his more mature works try:
Black Cherry Gangs, mafia, wars, aliens and god in a very fast paced action drama!

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