Shelf Gold: Rachel Rising

By Andrew Uys

Shelf Gold is a new ongoing segment that looks at comic book series that get a little less attention in the mainstream market, but which are definitely worth adding to one’s collection. If you are already familiar with the titles being reviewed, well good for you Mr/Ms/Miss Fancy Pants! Instead of feeling smug in your indie cred, why don’t you share some suggestions for the UysFaber staff to read and review? Post your recommendations in the comments section below, or respond to us on Facebook or Twitter, and we’ll add your picks to our pull list pronto!

The first pick for the new year is Rachel Rising by Terry Moore. It’s published by Abstract Studio (which really only exists to allow Mr. Moore to publish his works independently). Terry Moore’s biggest success to date is Strangers in Paradise, a “cult classic” that has been collected in nineteen graphic novel volumes, which in turn have been condensed into six massive pocket books. I only call Strangers in Paradise a cult classic because its readership was comprised primarily of non-traditional comic fans, which back in the late ’90s meant women. Even years later, with all its awards and multiple reprintings, most Marvel and DC readers are unlikely to have heard of Terry Moore’s indie epic. Rachel Rising aims to change that.

With the advent of fangirls (or nerd girls/geek girls/female readers) being acknowledged by “The Big Two” as a growing (and already major) segment of the comic book market, more and more titles have been produced with them in mind. Creators like Terry Moore have been tapped to work on “mainstream” series, with mixed results. Mr. Moore’s bibliography includes (very) short stints on Birds of Prey and Runaways, along with a volume of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer one-shot.

While it’s great seeing talented indie creators brought onto “major” titles to add a fresh perspective to the characters, I can safely bet that the publishers were banking on Moore’s female readership following him to these “girl-geared” comic books. Not a bad strategy per se, but Terry Moore’s creative brilliance truly shines when he can make the characters his own, and isn’t being asked to “create within the lines” as Marvel and DC are wont to do. On a creator-owned project one doesn’t have the same restrictions that come with long-term franchise titles, and this tends to add a freshness and unpredictability to the story.

Terry Moore is one of those truly talented individuals who can both write and illustrate. And while this brings a great cohesion to his work, the most immediate appeal of Rachel Rising to me is the art. Terry Moore is one of the few creators gifted enough to be able to work in black and white and have it convey just as much detail and character recognition as any 4-colour title. A master of depicting the female form, Moore draws women who are attractive without being wholly unrealistic. I’m just as much a fan of Ed Benes, but comparing the images below, any honest comic book reader must acknowledge that Benes’ style conforms more to fanboy expectations of their superhero characters than to an actual woman’s anatomy.

Terry Moore’s simplistic line style and great use of negative space allow him to convey the tiniest emotional shifts without relying on narration or dialogue. In addition, and as I’ve already remarked, he is able to create immediately distinguishable characters without the use of colour or flashy costumes. For me, this is especially important when reading a new series where I’m unfamiliar with the characters and the storyline hinges on engaging with its diverse cast. A good example of this problem is 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso.

100 Bullets is a superb series, but the gritty dark mood of the world can make distinguishing between some of the characters a little difficult, especially if you are reading the monthly issues. I have come to recognize the importance of brightly coloured costumes—they serve as shorthand for who’s who. Tall lanky fellows with mussed up brownish hair and dirty off-grey suits can begin to blur together when the comic book medium doesn’t have auditory clues to help distinguish between the characters. And this problem can become even more apparent when a series is printed in black and white, and doesn’t have skin tones and hair colour to set the story’s players apart.

Still, Terry Moore’s artwork never falls into this trap. Instead, the exquisite detail that his minimalistic style brings to the page is reflected in his character’s faces—the curve of a nose or the texture of the hair easily signifying the character’s identity. This, combined with his superb paneling and beautiful hand lettering, makes Rachel Rising a visual treat for any reader. Of course, Terry Moore doesn’t skimp on the storyline either, and this is what attracts me to his latest series over his previous works.

I already mentioned that Rachel Rising aims at expanding beyond Terry Moore’s traditional fan base, and this is seen in the subject matter of the story itself. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing here that would drive away folks who have enjoyed SIP, but Rachel Rising is decidedly darker in tone than his previous works. Echo, his last on-going series that wrapped up in 2011, was Terry’s first attempt at returning to creator-owned material while trying to retain new fans from his more mainstream work. A blend of relationship drama and sci-fi, Echo just didn’t connect very well with readers. So now it’s out with science fiction, and in with the supernatural!

Rachel Rising starts off with the mysterious resurrection of a recently murdered young lady called... Rachel. From there we meet her weird and wacky friends, while also being pulled into a series of bizarre murders that appear linked to Rachel’s own death. What makes Rachel Rising such a delight is that unlike more mainstream comic books, anything can (and does) happen. No character is “safe” because they are a Lois Lane or Tony Stark. There are no epic battles that the reader knows will be ret-conned or reversed when the next blockbuster movie is about to hit theatres.

This unpredictability only works, though, if we connect with and care about the characters and what happens to them. In this regard, Terry’s characters’ quirks, grudges, and friendships help quickly pull the reader into the series. It doesn’t hurt that almost every issue has some new twisted death to keep things exciting, while the backstory of why these murders are happening is slowly parceled out so you cannot wait to get the next issue. And while this story doesn’t draw upon actual historical events, as more of the plot is revealed in the second volume “Fear No Malus” (collecting issues #7-12), one would be hard pressed not to connect it to past (and present) atrocities that are committed out of fear and superstition.

These darker and more violent supernatural elements will certainly appeal to readers of Ed Brubaker’s Fatale or Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider, and reach beyond the comic book ’verse to fans of Supernatural or The Sixth Sense. Moore’s deft mix of empathetic characters and gross-out deaths equals a great read that, given its creator-owned nature, is far more rewarding to buy than many of the more “mainstream” titles out at the moment. Combined with his stunning artwork, Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising is one of those books that too few comic fans know about, but everyone should be reading!