Gloom Planet, Golden Chimes & Tycho, by Anya Davidson
Anya Davidson is a singular talent in the world of comics. There’s an incredible energy to her work that never ceases to amaze me. Her characters are expressive, she conveys movement well, her dialog are interesting, funny and smart, the stories she tells are compelling and her colour is innovative. I’m always impressed whenever I pick up one of her comic books. I was lucky enough to read three of her comics, Golden Chimes, Gloom Planet and her latest short comic Tycho which was released at TCAF.
Gloom Planet is a short oversize comic about a mad scientist leaving the isolation of her laboratory to go get some equipment. She ends up falling through a hole in the ground and meets some underground mole people until she’s able to escape. Golden Chimes is the story of a con woman recruited into being a fortune teller by another con artist. She learns how to properly con people until a customer has a request she can’t endorse. Tycho is about the misadventure of Tycho Brahe, a Danish nobleman known for his competence in astronomy.
What is striking in her work, is that while all of her characters and settings tends to be surreal, strange and fantasy-like, it’s always very much grounded in reality. Gloom Planet is about being unhappy with your fellow humans and wishing you could just be alone. Golden Chimes is about refusing to lie to clear someone else’s conscience. Tycho is about the experiences that shapes you, for better or worse, and the people around you. Her work is much deeper than any short explanation I could come up with though. Tycho for example, is also about the rivalry between colleagues, astronomy as a science, critical thinking and the need to agree based on empirical facts, the consequences of being impulsive and so much more.
Despite using lavishly dressed characters or monsters as protagonists, once you move past the initial shock of their exterior appearance, you quickly see them as complex humans. When I talked with Anya last year, she talked about Band for Life and also about how she viewed her characters, the difficulty in reconciling her style with the substance and themes of her comics : ”All my characters are, well, humans really, but they’re depicted as monsters. I found myself thinking it was hard to address […] real life issues in the book. You’re meant to think that those characters look outrageous, but they’re really people. I think that’s why with Retrofit, I just want to do people. It’s harder and harder to integrate humour and real life issues efficiently when everyone looks like a monster.” I believe that this might be a problem if her characters were less developed. As they are, they feel multidimensional and real. This barrier is effectively removed in her comics. I’ve spent a lot of time with her comics and I often come back to School Spirit and Band for Life as examples of how to do character development. You quickly understand the characters, their needs and wants, their interests, their hopes and dreams no matter what they look like.
I think my favourite of the bunch might be Golden Chimes, a really well constructed comic. It established a conflict early on and explored it from various angles. It talked about how people believe in a higher power and how others are exploiting this belief for their own purposes. The fortune teller lies to customers about her client’s future, clients in turn are looking for justification for their actions and future actions. Much like Band for Life and her contribution to the Believed Behavior anthology, Golden Chimes places our protagonist in front of challenges, confrontations or changes and question they can stay true to themselves. It’s a surprisingly deep comic and a shift from what I’ve normally seen from Davidson in her work. It’s set in a Victorian era Her regular ”Humanoid monster protagonists” and colours are absent. It’s focuses on the lies we tell ourselves
You can find Anya’s work on her Tumblr page, or her website. You can visit her online store and get copies of various of her comics, including Golden Chimes and School Spirits, her debut graphic novel from 2013. You can also get her latest graphic novel Band for Life at your local bookstore, or from the Fantagraphics website.
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.