Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Revue August 16th: Cato's Apprenticeship

All Hands On Deck!

Cato's Apprenticeship Is Going To Be A Bumpy Ride!

Imagine a world where every test you took could, quite literally, decide whether you lived or not. Imagine the pressure of a completely contained militarized environment. And then imagine dealing with that before you're old enough for your voice to change.
This is the world Cato lives in. As an apprentice on the Grimalkin, a ship grim enough to live up to its name, this young boy is going to have to grow up very fast to survive in a brutal world.
This well-crafted and powerful tale, created by a gent who goes by the pen name of  Joey Ballast, can be found here
The story is introduced by the author with these words: 'Earth is dying, Mars is a wasteland, and humanity clings to small pockets of space-born air and water like anthills in an ocean. Bleak? Sure. But life goes on.'

Cato has been born in an era just after some of the worst fighting in human history, a war between Earth and her colony on Mars. His elders are all war veterans, scarred by their experiences and not afraid to play rough with their young apprentices in order to teach them to be tough, able members of their ship-bound society able to survive the rigors of a vicious universe. Not exactly a nurturing environment for a sensitive, gentle boy like Cato...

The Rating

A wonderfully paced and powerful coming-of-age adventure.

The Raves

If we're being frank, sometimes as a reviewer I'm asked to critique comics that I struggle to read through. I tell myself that I signed up to learn and help others learn the craft of comics, and I make myself finish the archives. Sometimes it's a strain. So you can imagine how wonderful it feels to be invited to review something wonderful. 'Cato's Apprenticeship' is one of those treats.
The storytelling is phenomenal. I've rarely read a comic that so seamlessly integrates its world building into the plot. It's done so gracefully that you really don't register the information transfer; instead, you're allowed by well crafted writing to seamlessly fall into the life of Cato and his fellow apprentices.  
A single page of this comic can simultaneously give you all the information you need about the dangers of a given situation and emotionally involve you in the struggles of a twelve-year-old kid being constantly pressured to be something he isn't. The world may be a futuristic dystopian, but the struggles are painfully familiar; the childhood struggle with expectations from peers and elders, feelings of unworthiness, the difficulties of dealing with society's decisions made on your behalf and the fight to find a little way in which you can be at peace with yourself. Cato is an extremely sympathetic character, partly because he is NOT whining and moping about his life. Many coming of age stories annoy me as a reader because the protagonist's overwrought feelings ring hollow for me. But Cato doesn't go into long perorations about how hard his life is. Instead he fights a quiet battle to remain who he is in the face of crushing forces, including an implant placed in his brain against his will. His weapons are his wit, his books, and his patient, persistent insistence on doing things the way he chooses to. The world he lives in thinks he's weak, but he's got more strength than some adult characters I could name.
Another strong point is the way the tale is paced. This is a simple story, but it has hidden depths. It doesn't devolve into a morality lesson as so many tales about children do, and it  FOR ONCE allows children to have the complex and conflicted emotional lives they ACTUALLY do. There are no good guys and bad guys in 'Cato's Apprenticeship'. Everyone has their own story to tell, and their own reasons for acting as they do. The grace with which these motivations are revealed is wonderful.
And then there's the art. Throughout the comic, the art is of a consistently high caliber, the facial expressions beautifully evocative and  the body language perfect at conveying messages. Oh, and by the way, somebody has finally drawn the inside of a space cruiser well. It's a treat to read the archives and watch the artist experiment with grayscale and color overlays for their lovely linework, until they reach their present point, which is 
I love the new color, but color is nothing if the linework beneath is not consummate. In 'Cato's Apprenticeship', it is.

The Razzes

My only complaint with 'Cato' is the way speech bubbles are handled in drawn out or multi-person conversations. Take a look at the page below, and time yourself on how long it takes you to figure out who's talking where.

The final panel alone took me five seconds to sort out. This is an issue. There really needs to be some work done to make it easier to read conversations easily. Take pity on we readers, dear creator.

The Revue

If you love sci-fi, well told stories or sweet big-eyed boys, this is a must read. It's one that goes on my personal reading list.

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