Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Claw the Unconquered

Posted by Don MacPherson on March 30th, 2012

Queen Crab original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Artiz Eiguren
Cover artist: Sas Christian
Editor: Amanda Conner
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US

I’m a lucky guy because the manager of my local comic shop is forever directing my attention to unusual and lesser-known comics and graphic novels he think I might find interesting, and this Kickstarter project of Jimmy Palmiotti’s definitely flew under my radar. I like it when Palmiotti takes on these personal, unconventional projects, so I was quick to grab a copy. It turns out the small chain of comic shops where I get my books was also a strong supporter and sponsor of Queen Crab, so my book was signed and included a couple of prints (one by Palmiotti and another by Amanda Conner). It was a nice bonus, but I was far more interested in this book with the unusual cover. Despite the premise of a woman who wakes up one day to find she has crustacean claws instead of hands, it’s really more of a slice-of-life book that examines the life of a woman who’s settled for a lesser life. Most of the book is a bit of a bummer, but in a resonant way. It’s an interesting character study that’s marred somewhat but some awkward pacing, but it merits a look just because it’s such a change of pace.

It should be a magical time in Ginger Drake’s life. She’s about to get married and go on a cruise for her honeymoon. But the reality is she’s miserable. Her new husband is having an affair, which doesn’t seem quite so bad when one considers Ginger was carrying on with another man as well. She’s got a job that provides pretty well for her, but the price of retaining that job is steep and demeaning. Her honeymoon proves to be a blessed relief from the daily disappointments of her life, but it also proves to be a traumatic turning point. Returning from a disastrous time at sea, Ginger finds herself transformed and her life forced completely off the rails.

I’m not familiar with Artiz Eiguren’s work, but this is a promising introduction. His work reminds me a great deal of the style of Peter (A God Somewhere) Snejbjerg. It’s an organic approach that suits both the ugliness of Ginger’s life before her transformation and the weirdness of the altered form with which she finds herself later in the book. The muted colors also enhance the depressing tone in the first couple of acts and allow the energy and wonder of the underwater phenomenon the main character encounters to really pop. Sas Christian’s richly textured, manga-inspired cover art is quite eye-catching, especially as an isolated image on a field of white, representing an effective book design. The cover art is so striking, the shift to Eiguren’s much different style within is a bit jarring, but one adjusts quickly to the different look.

Queen Crab is really more of a graphic novella than a full-fledged graphic novel. This is a pretty thin volume, and I would’ve preferred more story content than the pinups and process sketches in the back of the book. That being said, this is a dense read, and I didn’t feel shortchanged. The emotional quagmire and characterization of self-destruction give the reader plenty to absorb and mull over.

One thing was apparent as I made my way through the book: much stronger copy editing was needed in the development of this project. Names are spelled inconsistently, there are a couple of instances of missing words, and there are typos here and there. It might not be a major issue to some, but I frequently fill in as an editor at my day job, so I find the gaffes jarring and distracting. That being said, I’m the worst copy editor and proofreader of my own work, so I’m sure this review will boast some of the same errors for which I’m taking Palmiotti to task.

The pacing is a bit off as well. I think Palmiotti mires his audience in the unpleasantness of Ginger’s life a bit too much. The first of the three acts boasts a terribly slow pace; mind you, it may seem that way because it’s so depressing (though appropriately so, given the nature of the plot). I think the payoffs later in the story — the revelation of the real purpose of Ginger’s relationship with her husband, and the eventual adoption of a more rewarding, peaceful lifestyle — are delayed a bit too long. It also feels as though Palmiotti has dropped a couple of scenes, as there are characters that are introduced that don’t seem to serve any purpose in the story. Ginger’s friend Jet and her mother-in-law turn up for what at first seem like pivotal scenes, and then they disappear before anything of consequence occurs. They’re like a gun mounted on a wall that never goes off.

Overall, the point of the story is about a woman with no stability or real happiness in her life finding peace and even purpose. While she has no idea what transformed her, her new purpose is delving into that mystery and appreciating a simpler lifestyle. Ultimately, the message at the heart of the story is quite relatable. Ginger is forced out of an unhealthy but easy life by horrible events, and she’s forced to start over. But as a result of terrible experiences, she ends up improving her life and herself. How many of us have lost a job or been through the end of a relationship only to emerge from the melancholy or anger to embark on a new path that proves to be more rewarding. Palmiotti offers a new-door-opens-after-one-closes parable, albeit an exceedingly weird one. 6/10

Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.

One Response to “Claw the Unconquered”

  1. D. Peace Says:

    I haven’t read this yet but the concept of a 21st century, female Gregor Samsa might be too compelling not to check out. Like Kafka, it seems the focus here isn’t the random, unexplained mutation itself but rather how it serves as a metaphor for alienation in general and the character study if its victim.

    Even though I am a fan of Palmiotti’s writing, I had not heard of this book until now so extra thanks to your local comic book guy from me.