A small, vulnerable child cowered in on themselves inside a massive metal hand. The hand’s fingers are curled in a protective but gentle manner that defies its size, and the angle at which we see the child is from the giant’s point of view. The child is nude, and the background is covered in snow. The reader, looking down from the giant’s eyes, immediately feels a sense of responsibility for this person that would certainly die if left to the elements. Empathy is instantly formed using lines, color, and shading. There are no words on this page. They aren’t necessary to build this story.
This is just the first page of Step by Bloody Step, the completely text-free series from Si Spurrier, Matias Bergara, and Matheus Lopes. The only dialogue at all is said by tertiary characters occasionally and spoken in a language that seemingly the giant and child don’t understand. Our two protagonists don’t communicate with each other with verbal language, but with looks and actions instead. This also means there are no internal monologue blocks to make explicit what characters are feeling and no speech bubbles to lead you from one panel to the next.
The art is laid out entirely in rectangular panels. The spacing between them can quicken or slow the pace of a scene, and the size of the panels mimic a close-up or wide shot. Occasionally figures will pop out of the rectangle and onto the background for emphasis. Every frame is placed with purpose, and the time usually spent reading dialogue is spent instead on picking up smaller details or basking in the beauty of a double-page spread. This is all to say that this comic is not harder to “read” than any other comic. This would be a great first comic for those new to comics and even children old enough to handle the monsters inside. We don’t know yet if further issues will have more mature content or not.
Spurrier is not afraid to tell a complex story in this manner, as this is much more than a mood piece. The giant and child spend the first half of this issue trekking through the frozen woods, encountering different types of beasts that the giant must vanquish. But halfway through, we are introduced to a much different landscape, other people, a deeper exploration of what is so unique about this child, and a hint of others who are looking for them. This second half is also where Matheus Lopes’ colors really get to shine, leaving the cold blues and whites behind and embracing a broad spectrum that covers plant life and monsters alike.
This is much more than an experiment with the form of comics. There is a gripping story here that I felt more a part of somehow, perhaps because I was being shown what was happening and needed to do my work of interpreting it. There’s something elemental about it, like it’s an old fable told for the thousandth time. It’s good to be reminded that the art of a comic can be as important in telling the story as the dialogue and sometimes much more crucial. This is a big swing of a first issue, and I hope, as the story continues, the swings get even bigger. It’s always exciting when something truly original comes out like this, and I can’t wait to see more.