I’ve had the pleasure to visit a few towns in Alberta for work recently and I tried to find comics from local artists everywhere I went. This is the second in a series looking at a comic from an Albertan cartoonist. In this installment, I’m taking a close look at the action-fantasy comics Repose by Sho Uehara.
Cartoonists impress me every day. Anytime I pick a work like Sho Uehara’s Repose, I’m floored by the skills needed to pull off an idea and execute it well.
Repose is a wordless comic that focus on action and adventure whose premise essentially links the stories of Sun Wukong, the legendary Monkey King and Pandora, the greek goddess. It posits that perhaps the evils that Sun Wukong fought may have been linked to the horrors contained within Pandora’s box. It’s a simple story that focus on the life of the Monkey King has he defends various helpless anthropomorphic people and humans alike against the forces of evil throughout his lifetime. He eventually gets a chance to be the benevolent person he’s been since his youth and, perhaps put an end to the flow of evil.
There’s a section at the end of the comic with process work from Sho Uehara as well as some of the early ideas. This was a fascinating piece of work to look at. You can see the development of Uehara’s early ideas as they transform and coalesce into designs, concepts and an overall more refined sketches and stories.
One element that stood out was the evolution, or aging of his protagonist Sun Wukong. He begins the journey as a brash, confident young fighter and eventually becomes an older, more experience, but more cautious and perhaps a bit more frail. We’re treated to a sequence of a few pages where the seasons changes in quick succession and we immediately understand Sun Wukong’s experience throughout his life. It’s an excellent way to showcase the passage of time.
Repose is not flawless though; it has some pacing issues. It’s an all-out action comic, but sometimes the action doesn’t flow quite as well as it should. There’s a two page sequence where Sun protects a group of vulnerable people. He punches a monster in the face with his left hook. Then we have a six panel page that’s meant to show how much monsters he’s taking on at the same time, but we have 5 panels of very similar looking monster being punched from the same angle from a left hook. It’s not bad, but it wasn’t particularly clear.
Another issue was that some of the action panel to panel isn’t always quite flowing well. It’s hard to place where Sun is. There’s a four panel sequence that was quite befuddling as my brain tried to piece it together. We start with Sun hitting a monster while jumping with the staff in his left hand, then we follow with a close-up panel of his face, lifting his left arm. But then we get a completely different angle where his upper body is turned at a 180 degree from what it was before,this time with his arms down. And in the very next panel, his staff is now in his right hand. These were two minor instance where the sense of where and what was happening was comprehensible but not particularly clear. I had to do more work than I thought to piece some of the action set pieces together.
In spite of this pacing issue, Repose showcases the incredible storytelling skills of Sho Uehara. There’s a wonderful energy to his work and when it works, it works really well. In particular, the final sequences where Sun Wukong meets with Pandora are gorgeous, well-executed and charming. There’s emotions and we feel the characters age, commitment and driving force. It has a certain weight to it, especially upon a second reading. In addition to this, Uehara’s colour work throughout is quite stunning. He’s an incredible artist. It’s an overall very interesting comic, where a single artist took an idea and explored it as far as it could possibly go and it’s a very satisfying read.