“The Boy With Nails for Eyes” is the story of a young boy whose brief, near-phantom encounter with a girl he’s never seen changes his life forever. Meanwhile, there’s just a bit of a war on. Warning: minor spoilers ahead.
Creator: Shaun Gardiner
We’ll focus here on the prologue and the first chapter of this longer tale. “The Boy With Nails for Eyes” leans heavily on a unique aesthetic and several neat hybrid tricks to make for an intriguing graphic experience. Gardiner’s style is intricate and sophisticated, with an extremely fine line and careful shading, a palette drawn directly from early 20th-century industrial grit and poetic narration. Gardiner also incorporates facial details similar to those we’re likely to see in a Keane painting or modern animation: big, shaded eyes, rounded faceless humans and an impressive take on what is likely a pretty massive threat later in the tale.
Our prologue opens with the appearance of the crows as a portent of war, and their effect on the town living just on the brink of chaos. We then meet Bobby, a young boy who immediately feels dwarfed by his surroundings and life – only something’s changed. Gardiner uses the space on the page well, favoring spread-length panels of row houses and composite pages filled with news clipping-fashioned dialogue and collage elements. Of particular note is one scene in Chapter 1, in which Bobby tries to depict his experience in an ever increasing drift of paper. Gardiner fills the page with panels of rough, charcoal-smudged reams that transform on the page turn into a wind-driven swirl of collaged paper scraps across the spread. An enlarged and shaded repeat of the previous panels grounds us in the transition, and the papers carry the story’s narrative captions on their path across the width of the page.
The focal point of the scene is actually Bobby on his stoop in the lower right corner, surrounded by sketched outlines of paper spilling into the street. It’s interesting to note here that the paper swirl doesn’t lead us to Bobby directly; instead, we pause at the edge of the page and our eye drops down to the small boy in his intense, interior moment. The creamy paper path is a stark contrast to the watercolor layers of industrial smoke and the blurred ink, reflected only in Bobby’s subtle halo as if to say “here is the only thing of beauty in this world.” Overall, a good use of comics anatomy and creative storytelling to evoke precise emotion, and maintain the book’s melancholy, strange tone. This is also not the last time we see the paper, and it’s used later on to similar effect.
“The Boy With Nails for Eyes” is full of these clever and unique choices, and the bonus is that none of them feel particularly clever. They’re mostly earned, and even the humor that comes from the crow screeching a sensationalized newspaper headline is appropriate. Gardiner’s imagination is on display in this book, and the art is absolutely its main strength – as it should be. Some of the narration is ornate at times, but it’s nothing that will trip up a reader used to a slower, meditative comics experience. Lettering is done in uneven black narrative boxes with a white font against some of the more complex layouts, and a black font in others. The transition between black and white text is generally smooth, and there’s very little of issue to note here. The font fits the book’s industrial period style, and its size feels appropriate to Bobby’s current state.
Overall, Gardiner creates something special in “The Boy With Nails for Eyes.” Fans of creative zines, intricate and sophisticated layouts and collage-style comics with a unified color palette should definitely take heed. Bobby’s poised on the brink of some serious drama – as is his imperiled city – and whatever happens next, we’re off to a good start with a rich, soulful comics experience.
The Verdict: 8/10 – “The Boy With Nails for Eyes” delivers a unique graphic experience and introspective story, with an ominous and vivid peek at potential violence down the road.