For all of my criticisms of Dan Shive’s storytelling, I must admit he’s managed to improve his artistic skills significantly from when he first started drawing El Goonish Shive over a decade ago. But there’s more to art than carefully crafting lines on paper; the best art captures the life and soul of the subjects being drawn. Shive will be the first to admit he’s still got much to learn, but today’s update does manage to impart life to his characters. This isn’t to say there aren’t flaws in Shive’s artistry; his use of computer-generated backgrounds to save time is used by several comics, including Questionable Content; unfortunately, the blurring and abstract aspect of the background details does distract a little from the character art, and Shive would be better off using crisper art similar to the above-mentioned QC.
Quibbles about background art aside, Shive did an excellent job in bringing his characters to life in this update. Tedd’s body language in particular is especially well done, as Sarah starts reminiscing about “The Incident” concerning involuntary transformation that turned her into a non-verbal catgirl and he starts to slouch. This was particularly telling as Tedd had been experimenting with a hair transformation gadget, and his hair went from short to shoulder-length, seeming to pull him down as the litany of grief was ladled out. Seeing that Tedd suffers from self-confidence issues, it often appears like he hides behind his hair while trying to avoid being hurt by the actions of others.
The short-haired Tedd was quite interesting to observe, and in many ways I think it suits Tedd better than his usual look. Equally interesting was his reaction to his cousin Nanase; it’s obvious that he’s jealous of her (seeing that Nanase has magic he’ll never have, is immensely talented… and wasn’t abandoned by her mother), and being told he resembles her is obviously not a complement he wishes to hear. No doubt Tedd blames himself for his mother leaving and may even think deep down that if he only had magic she’d not have left. Nanase ends up being the Mirror of Erised reflection (to borrow a phrase from the first Harry Potter novel) of what he could have had if he’d only not been Tedd. This may ultimately explain why he’s so fascinated in transformations as he seeks to become someone other than himself.
Sarah was also fairly well done, though I suspect Shive could use some practice drawing long-haired people; something felt off about seeing Sarah’s locks extra-long, and I suspect part of it lies with how the hair sits on her shoulders and chest. Amusingly, despite being hidden behind her hair, Sarah was actually opening up to Tedd for a change, which is a welcome step of growth for her character, especially seeing that she and Tedd share a commonality in being without magic. In a number of ways, both Sarah and Tedd are kindred spirits among their larger group of friends, seeing neither of them have magical talents or are skilled in martial arts and the like. Only the Incident has stood between them… and now with Sarah reaching out, it looks like this old wound is finally healing and a new friendship can emerge.
No doubt if you look back at my recent EGS reviews you’ll see a theme of negativity and pushing Shive to strengthen his storytelling. At times it seems Shive has pushed his artistic improvement while letting his storytelling skills falter. But for all my complaints about various shenanigans and idiot-ball plots, this latest storyline actually feels right. Perhaps it is the integration of art and character, with body language telling as much a tale as dialogue, or it could be Shive has finally started focusing on a storytelling skill I’ve long insisted he had but failed to utilize to its fullest. If he keeps it up, then El Goonish Shive may once more become a story I read for enjoyment rather than from a sense of obligation to my readers.