Envy. Regret. Emotions that are very integral to the Human Condition. These feelings, and the things they push people to do, are at the heart of Night Fever – the newest work by the masterclass creative team that is Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, joined by Jacob Phillips on colours.
A Brubaker and Phillips collaboration always feels like home, which is an odd thing to say when you consider what their comics entail – explorations of the psyche and the things people do when emotions run their head, violent things – but they truly do. It’s that sense of familiarity, that trust that you know you’re going to get a fantastic story, a spectacular work of art, when you read one of them. This exact feeling rings true with this book too.
In this book, we follow Jonathan Webb, a book publisher who’s at a point in his life where he’s filled with those two emotions. Regret for not being a writer like he dreamed of being, envy for those who could follow the dreams he had, who could be free, even if he had everything he could ask for in life. He’s bored of his ‘perfect’ life, and decides to spend one night doing something risky by sneaking into a masquerade party. It’s there where he meets Rainer, and that decision ripples into so much more that he isn’t ready for.
There’s a very deep level of intent with every panel, every dialogue choice in this book. They all matter. There’s no ‘mundane-ness,’ no conversations for the sake of conversations. Everything is essential to the story at hand – whether literally or metaphorically. Every conversation will plant a seed in your head that makes later revelations plausible, and upon re-reads those become so much more rewarding because you can really start connecting the dots of the mystery and character arcs presented here.
Night Fever never has you bothered with the pacing of the story, instead always having you engaged with the comic at hand. Before you know it, an hour or two has passed – and you’re at the last page of the book, so you sit back and process it all. It never says so boldly, but there are full black pages with some minimal art that act as “chapter breaks,” in case you want to take some time before diving back in.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the brilliant art of Sean Phillips. In the afterword, Brubaker mentions (with self-admitted bias) that the art here is some of Sean’s best and some of the best in comics being published today, and I very much agree. It’s a gorgeous book, and it helps that I always appreciate page layouts where there aren’t any bold borders, instead just letting the images line up perfectly on a white grid. It allows every panel to pop.
Jacob Phillips’ colours are also key to what makes Night Fever work. Instead of depicting the book using complete realism, he opts for ones that fit more thematically, which end up framing the central character(s) of each panel much better. The shading is less “smooth gradient” and more solid shades right next to each other, and that really adds to the style with tremendous success.
Once again, this creative team knocks it out of the park. Just like the rest of Brubaker and Phillips’ collaborations, this is a must-buy.