|Gifts of the Night
By Paul Chadwick and John Bolton
DC/Vertigo – 4 saddle-stitched @ $2.95
AFTER THE CONCRETE BINGE OF EARLIER THIS YEAR, I looked for more Paul Chadwick to read and came up with Gifts of the Night. There aren’t a lot of examples of Chadwick writing and not drawing, but his collaboration with John Bolton here—for which Bolton received an Eisner nomination—is a great mix of story and art.
The story centers on Reyes, a scholar in a fictional Medieval kingdom who tutors the king’s son, Magdin. He has no higher ambition than to return to his books when not teaching, until one of his lessons inspires a vision that Magdin reports to his father, leading to a successful military campaign. Reyes is instructed to nurture Magdin’s “gift” and tastes power for the first time, starting a relationship with Magdin’s nurse, Clara, and seeing an opportunity to influence the nation. The result is a corruption in his relationships with Magdin and Clara, and his eventual ruin when a member of the king’s inner circle, Leuchet, discovers the source of Magdin’s visions and turns this “new tool of statecraft” to his own ends.
This is all fairly straightforward, but one of Chadwick’s talents is his ability to game out the complex consequences of simple ideas or actions. Reyes’ shift from a disinterest in power to a desperate need to maintain and expand power is believable. Chadwick takes a thoughtful and interesting approach to the meetings of the king’s council, the way that Reyes’ stories become Magdin’s strange premonitions, and the evolution of Reyes and Leuchet’s use of Magdin as a weapon against one another. Both are at first subtle, but the maneuvering culminates in a scene in which both are talking to Magdin at once, gradually shedding the illusion of allegory, and confusing and frightening him, while he sees them as animals battling in front of him.
Visual metaphors like that are the other layer that is placed on top of the narrative. Bolton’s strongest contribution is his illustrations of the many metaphors that Chadwick writes into the story, such as the king’s “wings of hope” in chapter one or Magdin speaking the words of God in chapter two. The text that accompanies these images is sometimes a bit too on-the-nose and could be subtler, but the majority of the word/picture combinations work well.
|Gifts of the Night #2, page 4.|
Click for larger image.
Bolton’s style makes the blend of the real world and the metaphors that Reyes describes seamless. The overall look is vaguely Medieval in his use of flat planes and simplified perspective, with an earth-tone palette in the main story and different monochrome palettes representing different aspects of imagination and knowledge in the scenes of Magdin’s visions. He uses the palettes brilliantly, as when the monochrome green, which had usually accompanied quiet moments or Reyes’ stories, is tainted by blood in the story’s climax. Bolton’s figures are sometimes stiff, but his well-designed pages and beautiful integration of the story’s fantastic elements make up for it. Todd Klein’s lettering, period-stylized but not overdone, adds to the tone as well.
In addition to the thoughtful meditations on knowledge and power, Gifts of the Night is recognizable as a Chadwick story for its emphasis on love and lust. The beginning of Reyes and Clara’s romance has the genuine excitement of new love, especially as Reyes has never been with a woman before. At the same time, it is his lust for Clara which makes him careless and it invades the rest of the story as Magdin’s visions take an erotic turn (Chadwick also cleverly never quite lets on how Magdin intuits Reyes and Clara’s relationship, or how much of a small supernatural element there really is to his visions). Bolton complements Chadwick well, painting Clara as a realistic woman, pretty but not exactly beautiful (much like how Chadwick draws Dr. Maureen Vonnegut in Concrete), her nudity matter-of-fact rather than sensational.
There are some flaws in the story; a minor thread is dropped toward the end and Leuchet’s final move doesn’t seem to fit. The conclusion of Reyes and Leuchet’s battle of wills in general is less compelling than Reyes’ grappling with his own demons. Reyes’ last, desperate action is perfect, though, and beautifully sets up the story’s sad ending.
Gifts of the Night would make an excellent paperback. Bolton’s art deserves to appear uninterrupted by ads. The story reads well in a single chunk and the chapters flow together smoothly. It’s an unusual story even for Vertigo, more low-key than much of the imprint’s fantasy offerings, but it’s smartly written and beautifully painted, and rereads reveal more detail and greater depth. I know I’ll be reading it again, and would love to be able to do so in that format.