Beautiful Canvas Volume 1
Ryan K Lindsay (Writer), Sami Kivela (Artist), Triona Farrell (Colours), Ryan Ferrier (Letters)
Black Mask Studios
28 February, 2018
From the co-creator of the brilliant fantasy Viking tale Eternal, Ryan K Lindsay, comes the story of an assassin and the target she saves. But, that is putting it mildly. The actual story is something else entirely.
Lon Eisley is a hit-woman tasked by the uber-rich Milla Albuquerque to kill a young boy. Lon is reluctant to take the hit; she has just found out that her girlfriend, Asia, is pregnant. When Lon gets to the target’s home, she takes out the cocaine-addled mother with ease, but takes the child, Alex, with her.
While Lon, Alex, and Asia try to figure out their next steps, Milla sends her artist/goon Moore to track them down. But, soon, a new player enters the frame: Eric Robinson, who seems hell-bent on taking Alex. Whatever his intentions, it soon becomes clear to Lon that she can trust nobody around her.
As Lon and Asia work to save Alex from himself, they meet ghosts, animal/human hybrids, mecha suits, telepaths, sleeper agents, and enhanced humans with pyrokinesis. They need to power through them all and bring down Milla, who will do literally anything for her love of art.
There is only one word that comes to mind when one reads Beautiful Canvas: bonkers. It is a standard story wrapped up in the craziest elements from every genre. Writer Lindsay has stated that his influences for the story were Philip K. Dick, David Cronenberg, Stephen King, and Clive Barker, among others. The story is an amalgamation of the visuals seen in the works of these popular writers and directors, but Lindsay’s Beautiful Canvas lacks one key element: precision.
The story is all over the place. There is no world-building to speak of. Readers are thrust into the midst of various scenarios and characters, with the expectation that they will figure out what is happening and put two and two together. That is not what happens. Instead, readers will feel like they are drowning in stimuli. There are so many visuals to take in that one has to read the book at least twice to make sense of it. Though this is a good tactic to entice re-readability, many might give up altogether after the first issue.
The biggest flaw in this story is that the characters are bland and uninteresting. Lindsay has said in interviews that he hopes readers will feel connected to the characters, but they can only do so if the characters are written well. Unfortunately, they are not. We are told, rather than shown, that Lon does not want to kill Alex because of the imminent birth of her and Asia’s child. But, we never get a sense of this conflict within her. Lon sees the ghost of a little girl, who we see later in the book in a fleeting panel. The significance of this girl and her effect on Lon are glossed over entirely.
For a protagonist, Lon is surprisingly two-dimensional. She says she loves Asia, but we never see her trying to do anything to protect her, only Alex. Asia is more affectionate towards Lon, but she ends up being a conglomeration of characteristics—a psychologist who is also a badass fighter and a powerful telepath—rather than being a cohesive and comprehensive being. At least she has more dimension than Lon, but her personality is altered to suit the plot instead of flowing organically. Also, why is the South East Asian character called Asia? That is just odd!
The villain, Milla, is a flamboyant killer who spouts supposedly profound phrases about how destroying the world will create art. She is set up as a kind of suave super-villain, but comes across as a nonsense-spouting pastiche who takes the reader out of the story. Milla is more a cartoon villain than a Bond villain, and one of the more annoying ones at that.
Even the art cannot save this story. Artist Sami Kivela had his work cut out, but he does an outstanding job of bringing Lindsay’s garbled vision to life on the page. The action pieces are particularly enchanting, and I found myself looking over them several times. Kivela has a way of portraying movement over a still page which is truly remarkable. It says something that the best panels of this volume are the ones without dialogue. Kivela imbues the characters with so much more personality than the script does and manages to move the story with his uncharacteristic use of insets within pages. This technique, which Kivela has not employed in his work before, gives readers a dual view of the action: close-ups, to understand the characters’ reactions alongside the wide landscapes for a complete view of the action.
Kivela is ably helped by the outstanding colour work of Triona Farrell. Considering the outrageous characters and the over-the-top gore, Farrell had to use her palette intelligently, and thankfully, she succeeds. Despite the proliferation of colour, none seems overused or gaudy. The colours, instead, give the story more vibrancy than it warrants.
Considering how beautifully subtle Lindsay’s Eternal was, Beautiful Canvas is a massive let-down. It is an incredibly frustrating read. The book needed to be much longer to build a sensible world that readers would enjoy spending time in. Writer Lindsay has thrown everything possible at his story and it is an absolute mess as a result. One wonders what editor Dan Hill was doing. The story clearly needed a firm editor; there are too many moments that need clarification, and others that needed to be removed entirely. So much has been put in this one volume it begs the question what the series could possibly add in later issues or whether it can, in anyway, be improved.