BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #4 Review – Rewarding
Writer: Ryan K. Lindsay
Artist: Sami Kivela
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Beautiful Canvas, like sister Black Mask Studios book The Dregs, is a story preoccupied with the art of storytelling. At every level, it’s story about creation—from the creation of narratives to the creation of life. In Beautiful Canvas #4, this theme comes to a head as this gorgeous, thought-provoking book hits a heavy and meaningful end.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #4
Focusing on a Fine Line
Issue #4 picks up some time after the events that ended the excellent third issue. The pieces of the puzzle aren’t where they were left. Milla has absconded with Alex and Asia to her helicarrier-esque Bond-villain lair. Lon and Eric are on the ground, still, regrouping and ready to take the fight to Milla.
Lindsay’s script—as we follow the two narratives of this issue on a collision course—is appropriately sparse. The time for words has past. Using just a handful of word balloons on most pages, Lindsay opts to let Kivela’s incredible art tell the story.
The structure of the issue is so that it effectively has a climax, a climax-denouement, and a denouement.
In the end, Lon fails her mission to protect Alex. With most action stories like this, the writer would let the plot rest here at the climax. Lindsay doesn’t let this story end here, though.
Instead, he gives Lon and Asia a quiet moment to reflect and to show us the person Lon has become. Then, that person shows in full force when Lon kills Milla, effectively ending Lon’s emotional journey.
Who is that person? She’s the difference between hunter and protector. She’s a fine line. Lon couldn’t protect Alex, but it’s that failure the prepares her for her impending motherhood. There’s a bit of ambiguity to where Lon’s character will go, though. Readers will hope that she can live out her days in peace, as implied but the book’s quiet ending. But they’ll know, too, that she is willing to do what it takes to protect her family.
This issue solidifies that Sami Kivela is one of the greatest artists most people haven’t heard of yet. His art has been rock-solid since issue one, but he still finds room to level-up in this final issue.
There are a couple of ways in which his art truly shines in this issue. A one-page fight scene done from the bird’s-eye perspective is masterful. Another page on which the villain waxes poetic in a talking-head scene is elevated by inspired layout design.
One place where the art is more successful than in most comics is in its use of small, inset panels. Kivela expertly uses these panels to the pages’ advantage. Nowhere in this book do these panels detract or distract. Layouts and details enhance and enrich the story.
One page, for instance, uses six main panels gorgeously laid out. Eric fires a bullet at a glass container holding Alex in the first panel. And inset into that panel is a seventh panel showing the glass starting to crack. That bullet, had it penetrated the glass, would have surely killed the child. This small panel takes a moment to focus on and show the reader the stakes.
It’s smart artistic and design decisions throughout this series that has made this book special. And these same decisions make Kivela the real star of Beautiful Canvas #4.
Thoughts from a Madwoman
Milla Albuquerque—Beautiful Canvas #4’s art film-obsessed Bond villain—has a line near the book’s climax:
“…Art shouldn’t be easy. Easy is a comfortable word for lazy. And Art isn’t for the tired or the weak, it requires struggle.”
Milla’s thesis is a statement about the craft of comic book storytelling.
Beautiful Canvas can be a challenging series at times. There are often gaps between the end of one issue and the start of another, leaving readers lost at first. Some readers will complain about not being spoon-fed everything. Some might even go so far as to call it bad writing. But in truth, the creators simply have no interest in telling an easy, lazy story.
This kind of storytelling reminds of Ellis and Fraction. Lindsay and Kivela go on to give the reader just enough information to make sense of things. This storytelling makes the story more of an experience. Readers experience confusion and the sense of being lost as Lon does. They also experience revelations as Lon does.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, Beautiful Canvas was never destined to be a book for the masses. The story and the storytelling read as too layered, too personal, but the book that functions incredibly well in those regards. And for readers patient enough and thoughtful enough, a rewarding conclusion awaits.
Beautiful Canvas #4 is in stores today.
Frank Gogol is a comic book writer who dabbles in reviewing as a way to learn his craft. His approach to reviewing comics is equal parts critique and analysis. For more from Frank, follow him @frankgogol on Twitter.