By Joe O’Byrne
O’Byrne is a Bolton born, Manchester based playright, film-maker, writer, lyricist, poet and Tales From Paradise Heights is his creation, featured in plays, short stories, films, even songs, .
Paradise Heights is a world featuring a cast of characters straight out of the playbook of UK crime noir, all Long Good Friday and Get Carter, where crime, urban deprivation and modern life all come together in something darkly poetic. Frankly just reading a little of the material on his website, and some of the reviews, I’d cheerfully throw money down to see one of his plays at some point.
However, I’m not here to talk theatre, I’m here to look at O’Byrne’s One Shot, his first comics work. Initially intended to be something smaller, potentially an introduction or programme for a new play, but that initial concept stretched out, the story expanding to eventual graphic novel format, serialised here.,
In O’Byrne’s introduction he writes of one character, Irish loan shark Frank Morgan, who kept cropping up in Paradise Heights, informing the style and mood of the work even when not appearing directly. And in One Shot we get a look into the mind of the man, a glimpse at his world and his enemies.
As the comic opens things have been surprisingly quiet on the streets of Paradise Heights for quite some time, an uneasy truce in place, three sides of the area’s criminal triangle in balance, three Kings sitting easy in their gangland thrones; Porn King “Dirty Aiden” McGreavey, up and coming street hustler Jimmy Teeny, and Frank Morgan, property developer and nightclub owner, the classic gangland boss settled behind a thin veneer of respectable businessman.
But truces of this type rarely last long, there’s Eastern European gangs attempting to muscle their way in, and those already part of the Paradise Heights criminal establishment aren’t immune to the temptation of playing one against the other, crimes made to look like they’re down to the Eastern Europeans. Everything points to this being the calm before the inevitable storm.
So, just on the concept and build-up to the comic, I’m pretty much sold, looking forward to it, the idea is solid, the setup good, the page of dark, mood setting poetry before the comic begins an added bonus.
So, here’s pages 2-5 of the comic to give you an idea of how the idea transfers to the comic page….
That’s absolutely representative of the rest of the comic, not so much a story as an evocation of mood, a glimpse behind the facade of the character, a piece where the drip feed of captions tells the tale of one man, rising from the depths to become the only sort of king that can rule the streets of Paradise Heights.
Reading One Shot is something that’s more frustrating than satisfying, the ideas are certainly all there, the scenario all mapped out, the characters there to be used and fleshed out, set out for us in the introduction as generic gang bosses, yet every line of dialogue here points to introspection and careful thought. It’s something that’s been done many times before, looking inward, the poetic soul of the savage, but O’Byrne creates something that makes me want to experience the familiar scenrio through his particular creative filter.
The art’s alright, perhaps a touch overly reaching, O’Byrne obviously trying for a variety of looks, and getting a variety of results instead, some working, some not so much. But despite some issues with the art I still reckon One Shot could have been a bit good, should have worked.
But I don’t think it does. There’s a massive problem, and it’s one of pacing.
The visual aspect of One Shot is of big panels, often just one per page, and often those panel to panel transitions jump in space, massive leaps that mean each page/panel is often something to be taken in isolation, each page crying out for the reader to tary, to linger and absorb the visual, embellishing the scene, filling in details of character and plot, doing the author’s work for him.
But all too often it’s just not possible, as the relentless voiceover on every page pulls the reader through way too quickly, each caption too short, too fast. The story and art really aren’t working together here and the clash of pacing spoils what had the potential to be so much better.
There’s also the problem with the lettering. Great lettering is practically invisible most of the time, only really noticeable when it’s integral to the storytelling, the sort of thing Dave Sim used to pull off so impressively. But here each page is simply dominated by a caption box and a font that’s just too big, completely out of proportion to the art beneath. It ends up dominating the image, yet there’s so little said in each panel/page that it’s an unnatural weighting.
All in all, One-Shot #1 is a short piece full of promise but also one that fails to live up to that promise simply because it gets the fundamentals wrong. Yes, it’s a first comic from a playright and film-maker so perhaps there were always going to be problems switching style and pacing, but when getting those fundamentals wrong strips away all the promise and potential of a great scenario and intriguing set of characters, they can’t be so easily ignored.
Hopefully O’Byrne can take these criticisms and use them, because One-Shot paced properly would be rather good indeed.