Comic creator pairings are an exciting prospect and a lot of times just the mere announcement of a team up is enough to stir up genuine excitement. Martin Simmonds (Department of Truth) and W. Maxwell Prince (Ice Cream Man) is one of those pairings that you see off in the distance and you stand straight up, or at least I did. Just seeing their names on the cover of Swang Songs is a sweet moment that should be savored (Pun intended).
What follows that cover is hands down the best thing I’ve read all year.
Oh, you’re still here. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Swan Songs #1 is the start of a new anthology led by W. Maxwell Prince with the conceit being each issue is an ending and every issue features a different artist. The first out of the gate is The End of the World with Martin Simmonds. It’s a story centered around a mother and a son as the atomic clock ticks down, and the son tries to do one last thing for his mother.
Look at the faces, just look at them. Simmonds is soft here and as a result these characters leap off the page and straight into your heart. And page 5 when the boy yells at his mother? Are you kidding me? A person drew that. The pain is on full display on his face and it just hurts. But then I remember this is a comic and my heart bursts open because these people that made this are putting everything into it. Every single bit of their humanity is shared with the reader and that’s the most beautiful thing.
As I read this first issue of Swan Songs, I thought of Department of Truth and I had to go reread some of it because Simmonds is unreal. He’s done something truly incredible here. His style has absorbed the essence of this story and I wasn’t aware he was doing that on Department but he has to be doing it on purpose. The gutters are different between the two books, it’s all in service of the story.
One doesn’t have to read comics long to come across juxtaposition. It’s one of the first things people talk about when it comes to comics because it’s one of those things that comics do really well. It’s rare to encounter a comic that is so perfectly structured that if it was a game of Jenga, you wouldn’t be able to take a piece out. It’s all necessary. It all bears the weight of the whole thing. The story opens with that stunning splash page, and on it is advice our main character, Brian, was given, and it’s this advice that is what you should carry with you through the rest of the issue. It’s purposeful. It’s brilliant because often, apocalypse stories are the things that are bigger than the sum of their parts; they are gigantic and unwieldy. And here, Prince and Simmonds make it so small and personal that you’re left with something bigger than most comics even think to provide.
As I read this issue, I could feel what the creators meant for me to feel. They may as well be reaching through the comic like a waiter presenting a plate. Page 1 of this story is a splash, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the last is a similar image. As I reached the penultimate page, I could feel it coming, and that final page turn was extraordinary.
I do not wish to go through the whole experience here, but there are moments in Swan Songs that made my jaw drop because of the craft. There’s nothing accidental here, and yet it all syncs so beautifully that it feels like magic. It feels like this book fell from the sky into my lap, but that’s not how things are made. There are real people behind this book, and it shows on every single panel.
I said earlier that this is the best thing I’ve read this year, and it is. It’s a book that, when I laid down to sleep that night, I kept seeing the pages over and over again. There’s a real sincerity here that I feel like I don’t normally come across.
Comics are beautiful and we are damn lucky to have books by people like W. Maxwell Prince and Martin Simmonds.