While comic books are almost always some form of visual storytelling, sometimes it makes sense to compare different books by looking at where they fall along a spectrum from purely visual to strictly prose; like some sort of twisted Kinsey Scale. I mention this paradigm because Eye of Newt has gorgeous artwork with quite lackluster story elements, and I want to describe this book as different instead of bad.
I caught a glimpse of this book in my local comic book store and I was instantly drooling for the artwork. DRAGON PORN. I raced through the pages, paying no attention to the narration or dialogue. Looking at the images, I felt like someone had taken the classic illustrations from the storybooks of my early childhood and somehow turned up the color saturation and the trippy-ness factors by about 50%. I nodded to myself. Clearly, Eye of Newt was created by someone like me, someone with similar childhood loves.
I’ve missed the mark entirely. Strictly speaking, Michael Hague couldn’t have been inspired by the books my parents read to me at bedtime. See… he actually illustrated them. The Hobbit, The Wind in the Willows, The Wizard of Oz, probably my cousin’s copy of The Velveteen Rabbit, Michael Hague illustrated the (arguably) definitive versions of these stories. Eye of Newt is consistent with Hague’s aesthetic, rich with detail, color, and texture. His style manages to keep the whimsical subject matter grounded and magical at the same time. Hague uses this method to strengthen the roots of his self built world.
And there’s the sticking point for me, Hague isn’t exactly building out his own world here, but rather he’s providing an illustrated interpretation of an existing legend. I bet you can even guess which one.
The first issue of Eye of Newt is an introduction to a world that feels vast and well developed. Newt, a young man prone to day dreaming, is guided through a dangerous passageway between worlds by a master sorcerer of questionable moral integrity. The child’s naïve nature and propensity for fanciful thought leave room for the entire story to be interpreted as literal or imagined, depending on the preference of the reader. Most characters and magical elements of the story are introduced fleetingly, almost dismissively, or matter-of-factly, by a narrator who does not find them amusing, as though these aspects are quite common and exist independently of the story. Compared to modern comic books driven by decompressed dialogue, Eye of Newt feels like an old fashioned epic.
The second issue promised an opportunity for Newt and a competing witch to begin a magical competition. Upon hearing the formal names of Newt and his female companion, I sort of rolled my eyes and groaned. For fans of the artwork, I recommend following the remainder of the series “with the sound off,” you know, like those movies you watch for the “plot.”