Black Stars Above #1
Jenna Cha (artist), Tim Daniel (designer), Lonnie Nadler (writer), Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (letterer), Brad Simpson (colourist)
November 13, 2019
Black Stars Above #1 opens with a bird’s-eye view of a desolate, snow-covered clearing, slowly closing in to the surrounding forest and a pack of animals moving through it. A man comes into view on the next page, and, eyeing the animals, he begins to scribble notes in his notebook, revealing some small details of the madness that threatens to overtake him here, alone in the woods. But is it madness? What truths do the creatures hide in their inky eyes?
Inked words connect this man and these creatures to Eulalie, a young Métis girl who lives in a cabin with her French father and grandfather, and her Indigenous mother. Much like the bleak land that we see in the opening, her narration, which comes in the form of the letters she is writing at the beginning of the issue, spell out a sense of hopelessness. Her father makes promises that the fur trade prosperity will reach them soon enough if they just hold on, but Eulalie knows that the boom has passed and that her family has little hope for surviving as they are unless something changes drastically. Unfortunately, what she doesn’t realize is that her father has already made plans to change their lot by offering his white-passing daughter to another family in exchange for hope for the rest of the family. But Eulalie takes a different way out when she consents to deliver a strange package, given to her by an even stranger person.
Using a scraps of paper design for Eulalie’s narration, the lettering stands out both in form and content. The concept of using uniform fonts to depict handwriting always throws off my suspension of disbelief a bit, but Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou has put elaborate care into the fonts used by each writer, from the heavy hand of man in the beginning, to Eulalie’s gentler, leaning script. Her words also follow her train of thought, even featuring struck out words that offer so much opportunity to read between the lines.
The scraps of parchment stand out against Brad Simpson’s dull colouring and harsh lines of Jenny Cha’s art. Both Simpson and Cha work masterfully together to set the tone for whatever darkness is to come for Eulalie. Many of the panels are chilling in the way they depict the literal cold and darkness and the horrors that await. Then there’s the detail in the scenery, sparse as it may be in the family’s small home, which shows the time taken by the creative team to get things just right, especially when it comes to the actual skinning process.
Lonnie Nadler doesn’t gloss over the reality of the times when it comes to depicting what life meant for Indigenous people. Though it’s only a small window into the bigotry, Nadler makes use of language to depict differences and inequalities within Eulalie’s own family. There is a sense of tension that rides beneath the family bond the four of them share beneath this one small roof that comes to blows at the dinner table when Eulalie is informed of her fate.
Though she doesn’t depart on her journey with hatred in her heart for her family, there’s enough ire to fuel a decision to take on a sketchy quest from a sketchy source. The issue ends with what the cover image shows us of this journey. With the few details leaked onto the pages along the way and the shivers the bleak artwork instill, Black Stars Above #1 whispers from the shadows with promises of the kind of creeping horror that will haunt even your waking hours.