Posted by Don MacPherson on April 13th, 2009
Jan’s Atomic Heart original graphic novella
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Simon Roy
Publisher: New Reliable Press
Price: $5.95 US
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of New Reliable Press. I’d never heard tell of comics creator Simon Roy. And I certainly never heard of Jan’s Atomic Heart before, so when the publisher provided an advance preview of the book for review, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. That probably enhanced my appreciation of this book, as it kept surprising me. At first, I didn’t realize it was science-fiction, even with the cues on the cover, as the opening sequence dances around the sci-fi premise. As I continued to read, I enjoyed the writer’s unconventional examination of friendship, so much so that I didn’t see where he was leading me with convincing and provoking background details of a political and military nature. Jan’s Atomic Heart is both incredibly grounded and mind-blowing in its originality. It’s touching and frightening. Roy has crafted a compelling story that’s relevant and relatable, and if that’s not enough, he brings it to life with inventive designs and a slightly rough style that brings out the humanity even in characters that doubt their own humanity. The fact that this book is being published by a lesser-known outfit will mean this book will likely fly under a lot of readers’ radar, but Jan’s Atomic Heart merits a lot of attention from a lot of people.
A recent motor-vehicle accident in Frankfurt has really proven to be a pain in Jan Nilssen’s ass. He has to deal with his insurance company not only about the damage to his car, but to his body as well. Jan’s been temporarily transplanted into a robot body, something his best friend Anders needles him about playfully. But then an off-hand comment alerts Jan to a connection between the make and model of his mechanical form and a machine recently employed in a terrorist bombing by off-planet separatists. Worried his body might betray him and that his memories have as well, Jan turns to Anders for help, and he in turn urges Jan to bring his concerns to the attention of the authorities.
Simon Roy brings a Euro-comics look to bear on this project, which makes sense given that it’s set in Frankfurt. His style here is easily comparable to that of Guy (B.P.R.D.) Davis, and the gruff, grizzled look of some of the characters also reminded me of similar characters in Paul Grist’s Kane and Jack Staff. The story presents a visual challenge in that the robotic facade of the main character isn’t the most emotive of visages, but Roy demonstrates his skills by conveying the appropriate feelings through the character’s body language. There’s a nice variety in his repertoire of storytelling techniques. He offers some convincing cityscapes and backgrounds, but there are other times when he isolates the characters in fields of white to emphasize a moment or to enhance a particular mood. His choices at the beginning of the book focus the reader’s attention on more routine, down-to-earth ideas, and that enables his real plot to have a more profound impact on his readers.
Roy captures a genuine tone in the dialogue that really sells the friendship between Jan and Anders, and that’s a vital part of the story and the illusion the writer constructs to make for the most effective climax possible. That dialogue is key when it comes to selling the reader on Jan’s humanity, given the fact that his appearance tells a different story. I also found it interesting and unusual at first that the book opens with Anders rather than Jan. It made me feel as though we were getting a more rounded look at this Frankfurt of the future, and the sequences serves to delay the revelation of Jan’s irksome predicament. Of course, those who read the book will discover there’s greater significance to that sequence, to Anders’s role in the plot.
Given the look of the art and the cosmopolitan tone of the writing, I’d assumed Roy was an established European creator. I actually inquired with publisher Ed Brisson about the origins of the book; I had a hunch this was actually a reprint of a well-received European comic. To my surprise, I was informed that Simon Roy is actually a Canadian comics creator who’s just starting out. This is a powerfully effective and thoroughly impressive debut from a young, new talent. Roy — whom Brisson tells me is only 20 — exhibits maturity and a level of craft beyond his years. He’s a real find, and fans of comics or just strong storytelling ought to seek out Jan’s Atomic Heart… and his future endeavors as well. 10/10