Spectacle, Book One - Megan Rose Gedris
Spectacle, Book One - Megan Rose Gedris ****
A circus is always a good setting for glamour and intrigue. More than any other show-business career, it has the reputation of wild and dangerous glamour, a group of misfits and outcasts from society living together in close contact and in competition for attention with one another. As much as they resort to more colourful and glittering costumes and pile on the make-up to enhance the illusion, there's always a sense of disillusionment underneath, a sense that they still regard themselves as freak show exhibits, relying on their otherness to make a living. It would not be surprising then that occasionally professional competitiveness, personal weaknesses and romantic inclinations come together to spark off tensions, and even murder.
Megan Rose Gedris's graphic novel series Spectacle has all of the colourful drama and seedy glamour that you associate with circus life, but she also has a few other more unusual elements to throw into the mix that promises to keep the series entertaining and surprising. There is a timeless quality to the tradition of circus life, so it's not until the wagon train arrives at their first destination that you realise that Spectacle is set in the late 1800s in the American west. So there's the Western side of things to add to an already colourful setting, but Gedris also introduces a supernatural element to the story that really shakes things up and gives Spectacle an entertaining and unusual feature of its own.
It doesn't take long either to establish the nature of the drama that occurs within the Samson Brothers Travelling Circus. It centres around two sisters, Kat, who is a knife thrower, and Anna, who is a fortune teller who goes under the circus name of Madame Strange. Anna feels a bit of a fraud compared to her talented sister but she has been working on a device she calls a conjecture engine that can statistically predict events with what Anna claims is 78% accuracy. For all Anna's claims to be able to see into the future however Anna fails to see the death of her sister who is brutally murdered with her own throwing knives.
As tense as relations can get in a circus, there has never been anything like a murder in the Samson Brothers Circus and owner Jebadiah Tetanus wants to keep it under wraps, passing Kat's death off as an accident while Anna searches for the murderer. While Anna's fortune-telling doesn't usually entail any kind of mystical powers, she discovers now that she suddenly has the ability to see the ghost of her sister. The ghost Kat is unable to help her shed any light on the mystery of the identity of her killer however, and residing inside her body, she may prove to be more of a hindrance than a help. Anna however finds that it's not just her sister's ghost she can see, and she seems to have gained a sixth sense awareness. All of which suggests that there's a sinister supernatural element to her sister's death.
Written and drawn by Megan Rose Gedris, the painted artwork of Spectacle takes on a free-flowing life of its own that isn't constrained by rigid panel grids. It may look boldly cartoony, with thick lines and bold colours, but the painted artwork has a lovely flow of its own and has a surprising amount of character and feel for situation. It helps that the circus is filled with the usual colourful cast of characters - and in this period even has a freak show element with Siamese twins, a bearded lady and a mermaid - but Gedris enriches each of them with strong features and behaviours that bring them to life and lift them off the page. With a story that has plenty of other elements to expand upon, including demons and supernatural experiences that haunt Anna's nightmares, Spectacle, Book One sets up the story well, and promises to have a lot more yet to offer.
Spectacle, Book 1 by Megan Rose Gedris collects the first four issues of the series into a 115 graphic novel collection. It's published by Oni Press on the 22nd May 2018.
Amazon UK - Spectacle, Book One