Author/Artist: Morag Lewis
Publisher: Sweatdrop Studios
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: October 2011
Synopsis: “Justice can be costly… The Royal Family have been murdered and the main suspect is the Court Mage Anciarin, who fled the scene in suspicious circumstances. However, not everyone is convinced of Anciarin’s guilt. Iashar, assigned to the pursuit of the fugitive, becomes increasingly sure that there is more to the murder than he first thought. His search for the truth leads him to a forgotten history – and powerful enemies. What price will Anciarin pay to fulfil the promise made to a dying prince?”
Reading a one-shot is such a satisfying experience. It’s not an easy thing to put together either – going past the realm of a short story with the planning (and self-control!) to keep it from going on and on. Sun Fish Moon Fish pulls together a pretty solid beginning, middle and end, clocking in at shy of 300 pages. Published in the UK through an independent group of comic creators called Sweatdrop Studios, Morag Lewis’s political fantasy is a learner’s work – the unrefined artwork puts some dampen on the experience but, while delivering a story with a pair of likeable characters, shows a lot promise despite a lack of polish. Note: This review contains some spoilers.
The book begins with a minstrel named Ember coming to aid of an island of appreciative strangers by rescuing their children from kidnappers. Following in the minstrel’s path is a man seeking someone bearing his description. The search is for a man suspected of having murdered the country’s royal family during a religious ceremony in which he was the only one absent.
Sun Fish Moon Fish is one part murder-mystery and one part political drama. Both aspects fall a little short in the beginning due to a lack of emotional connection to the big murder which drives the story forward. Those apparently closest to the family and the kingdom inhabitants don’t have much to any time to react to the news. It leaves a reader wondering if anyone really care past a mild interest in who did it. The story revs up soon enough though as a mage, Anciarin (aka: Ember), finds himself hunted by Iashar, a man assigned to investigate. Their travels take the two around the country as Ember seeks to fulfil a promise and Iashar begins piecing together a family history wrought with suspicious circumstances and questionable motives.
Though there are a fair share of names and events to remember, nothing ever gets too complicated. This comes as a relief since political stories can often become a big headache for those who aren’t interested in the intricacies of governance. The important information is who is related to who and who covered-up what. I liked learning it along with Iashar who in sharing his information with others made it easier to us to follow the process. Simultaneously Ember is working from the other side of the mystery, already knowing the truth and planning to set in motion a new royal agenda as the country’s council works to determine its new ruler. It really helps clear up any confusion when their searches overlap. Subsequently the book then wraps up well, neat and tidy enough to leave you satisfied but with that non-perfect resolution that gives it a memorable kick.
I really liked both Ember and Iashar as characters and they were my favourite part of the story. Ember is kind, quiet and melancholic. He’s also very self-sacrificing, a feeling you get right away and it foreshadows plenty later. Iashar is similar to Ember in personality but comes across more logistically motivated where as Ember, working on the strict behest of another, is more emotionally driven. It was a bit disappointing the two don’t have a lot of page time together since they’re the most interesting parts of the book. When they do appear together, however, the story always moves forward or offers something unexpectedly entertaining.
Sun Fish Moon Fish‘s artwork is of a much less even keel, unfortunately, and the story is often shadowed by its flaws. Impressive as a complete graphic novel is, the artwork still carries an amateurish appearance. Character faces were what bothered me the most. Far-spaced eyes often give them that doey spaced-out look that Western-drawn ‘how to draw manga’ books are often chastised for. A lack of variance between the way different people are drawn also creates a lot of unintentionally funny scenes, particularly those with baby-faced men sporting moustaches. The artist is clearly putting effort into making diverse designs to populate the world they’ve created but looks to overly-simple design additions instead of much needed structural attention to faces and bodies.
Anciarin’s minstrel ‘persona’, Ember, consistently looks the best. His design is more detailed than everyone else and this attention to detail on his hair and attire transcends to everything about him, including more eye-catching poses and staging. He stands out a lot from the others, showing clear favouritism or at least more comfort in drawing them. Iashar comes in a somewhat distant second yet is still drawn more solidly than most. It seems only suiting the main characters get the most attention but it makes the far less appealing secondary characters stand out that much more negatively.
Visually the book’s cover is the most impressive. It’s got a great exterior design with two simple but beautiful illustrations and some choice glossy areas that make the art pop from the matte finish black background. The paper used on the inside is on the cheaper side but is little different from what you’d see English-translated manga printed on. The printing itself works to the artist’s intent, bleeding properly off the pages. It’s a pet-peeve of mine when that’s not done correctly but Sweatdrop Studios and the creator took obvious care it was done right.
Sun Fish Moon Fish has its flaws but it’s a good start in the right direction. The conviction to finish an entire book, the well framed story and the consistency of their art style start to finish, despite its flaws, shows some solid building blocks. The book was ambitious, and while I appreciate that, I hope to see shorter works in the future where the artists’ efforts needn’t be stretched so thin. The book will likely stand in Morag Lewis’ comic career as more of a stepping stone to look back on than a recommended purchase on its own merit but after finishing it I’ll be following her work from now on.