I first became aware of Kel Nuttall as an incredibly talented letterer, with no idea of any inclination he might have had towards writing comics. So, what first attracted my attention to Nothingface was curiosity over how well Kel made the leap from one discipline to another. But upon reading Nothingface #1, I was struck by the fact that my reaction wasn’t, “This is pretty good for an indy comic,” or “This is pretty good for a book by someone I didn’t originally think of as a writer.” There’s no need for such qualifying statements here. This is great comics storytelling by any barometer, with both Nuttall and artist Ylidiray Cinar emerging as creative voices of note.
The character of Jon Novak was compellingly introduced in the short intro comic Nothingface #0, which you can read FOR FREE at Graphic.ly. In this short story, we get a glimpse at both Novak’s powers and the effect they have on him, as well as the dark territory Nuttall was willing to take us into with this narrative. In this brief snapshot of his grim routine, and the lengths he’s willing to go to in order to combat evil, Novak comes across as a “hero” perhaps more terrifying than the criminals he opposes. Jon Novak has the power to, with just a drop of their blood, take the form of any living person, a process that brings with it agonising physical pain, but perhaps worse, some of the darkest memories of the people he is “templating”, things that cannot be unremembered once they are in his head. He is a character very much in the mold of Rorschach or Steve Ditko’s Mr. A, only with an added degree of self-awareness in that Novak seems to realise how unhinged he is. This is very much a standalone story, not necessary for understanding what’s going on in Nothingface #1, but I’d certainly recommend checking it out. It won’t cost you anything, what have you got to lose?
Nothingface #0 gave us this great character, but what Nothingface #1 does to top it is to insert that character into a story that’s just as great. This first chapter of a story titled “Beautiful Dreamer” is in a lot of ways a classic serial killer thriller, but with some unique twists that let it approach the narrative with some fresh ideas. Novak’s case in this story is a woman plagued with prophetic dreams that let her see through the eyes of a man who will kill several woman, and eventually kill her. Her plight bears certain parallels with Novak’s own unwanted gifts. Together, each lets us to examine the idea of living vicariously through a murder – as the killer or as the victim – and the effect that might have on someone. On a deeper level, it turns the microscope back on us, the readers, who much like these characters, become voyeurs of the dark corners of life.
Kel Nuttall’s unnerving story is ably complimented by Cinar’s haunting art. From a hauntingly ethereal opening dream sequence which feels like a nightmarish twist on Being John Malkovich, to a visceral splash page that hammers home the destructive agony of Novak’s facial transformation, Cinar hits all the right notes. The lack of color is not a problem in the slightest, and in fact the black and white palette helps enhance the story’s bleak tone. There are a couple of minor missteps, such as some clarity issues with the climactic fight scene, but for the most part Cinar’s visuals are a success, getting under your skin and portraying the murkiness of this world. Kudos also to Ben Templesmith for a cover that demands your attention.
On the subject of the comic’s visuals, I feel Kel Nuttall’s skills as a letterer add a whole new dimension to the comic. A great letterer knows how to group and shape words in a way that will enhance the story, that will help to blend the realms of prose and image into a more immersive comic book reading experience. In Nothingface, captions and speech balloons are spread out all over the page, forming tapestries that Graphic.ly flow can barely keep up with, and helping to guide the eye forward through the art and the story. The comic is a masterclass in how lettering is as essential a component in a great comic book as any of the other, often more celebrated parts of the creative team.
Nothingface #1 adds some additional wrinkles to the character of Jon Novak, as we discover his need to wear his “templates”, in spite of the pain it causes him. It’s like an addiction. No matter how horrible it gets, he can’t stop himself, and no matter what horrible things he sees, he can’t bring himself to look away. I find myself responding in a similar way to Nothingface. The uncompromising story pulls no punches, and you get a sickening feeling that this cannot end well, but with the expertly-crafted storytelling of Kel Nuttall and Yildiray Cinar driving it forward, I cannot help but want to journey deeper into the heart of darkness.
Buy Nothingface #1 at Graphic.ly here.