- Author, Illustrator, etc.: Lights
- Publisher: Dynamic
- Published Date: [individual issues published in] 2017
Lights is a Canadian music artist who has released four main albums (with acoustic versions of the first three as well). With her fourth album, she decided to try something different and release a concept record — one that connects to a graphic novel. What happened was Skin & Earth.
She did virtually everything for the graphic novel: lettering, writing, art, coloring, etc. It’s a big endeavor that, honestly, I think paid off. I’ve been a fan of hers for a while, so I was eager to check it out.
Skin & Earth takes place in a future, post-apocalyptic version of Earth at the last city in the world. (At least, it’s the last known, populated city.) There is a Pink Sector and a Red Sector. The Red Sector is full of outcasts, since it’s where all of the toxic fumes are. Its citizens are too poor to live in the Pink Sector. We follow En from the Red Sector as she makes her way in this world and discovers things that could possibly change her forever.
I loved how seamlessly the plot was able to transition and branch off into other areas. We never lose track of the main plot, though, which seems to be more of a character study on En and how she deals with things. I think Lights did a great job of balancing character vs plot. Neither drives the other; they walk in tandem with each other.
I’ll just be honest; these characters can be pretty unlikeable. But they still feel real. They’re all flawed, but they also all have their positive qualities. There are three major characters: En, Priest, and Mitsuki (Tsu). Now, when I say unlikeable, I don’t mean annoying. I just mean that they don’t always make the decision you hoped they would make.
I found myself wishing En would do something else at times and not be so rash. But you know what? She has character. She has flaws but also strengths. She’s headstrong and willing to explore her curiosities; however, those curiosities can lead her to make some poor decisions. She also seems to struggle with the idea of being a leader, preferring to follow the whims of others. She’s never weak, but she definitely grows into her strength. It’s admirable, I think.
I think it’s pretty great that even though we don’t get much of Priest directly, we can still see that he has a character arc. When we first meet him, he seems like he’s going to be a relatively one-note character. But as the story progresses, he has a lot of depth added in and becomes surprisingly well-rounded. He’s morally grey, and it’s done very well.
Mitsuki is an enigma. She’s another very well done morally grey character. We learn about her slowly throughout each issue. She’s a very “take the bull by the horns” type of girl. She’s the type of person who, after you’ve read everything, still don’t know how to feel about her. I’d say out of the three main characters, she’s probably the most interesting one.
The world is amazingly detailed. Lights made an Instagram account with an interactive map of Madison Oasis, where the story takes place. A lot of these places we only see glimpses of in the graphic novel.
What I personally liked was that even though it is a post-apocalyptic tale, there’s still happiness and hope. There’s a scene in the Red Sector where we see people just out and about shopping, chatting, eating, etc. They aren’t walking around, constantly oppressed. There’s a nice twist on things, too, in that the Pink Sector seems more controlled and quiet than the rambucksious Red Sector.
I also appreciated being able to see all different areas of the city. I didn’t feel “trapped.” It’s only one city, but there’s still a very nice sense of exploration.
I thought the art was fantastic. It’s vibrant and unique without being over the top. And the writing as a whole was very good. You can see bits and pieces where she took lyrics from, but they don’t distract from the story. Parts of the writing rhyme, which might seem odd at first. But I think it adds a subtle layer in that there is hope in creativity. For those who like to know in advance: This does contain brief scenes of nudity (exposed breasts) and swearing. But it all works. Nothing is done “for effect.”
And I think that’s what I like most about Skin & Earth: It has a driving force. It’s relatively fast-paced but also manages to have a great balance of character + plot focus.
It also has LGBT representation, with En being bisexual. And it’s simply a part of her character. The graphic novel doesn’t bring it to attention, and it’s kind of refreshing. Her sexuality isn’t treated as odd or unique. She isn’t solely defined by it.
All in all, I would definitely recommend this graphic novel, along with the accompanying album. (Right now, you have to read it via the issues. I bought the eBook set on Amazon. A bindup is supposed to be released sometime in 2018. Also, this review is solely for the graphic novel, but the album is also amazing, of course.)
If you’re interested, check out her site where you can order physical copies of the issues and also get a copy of the CD. (My personal favorite overall song is “Magnetic Field.”) You can also check out her YouTube channel to see videos of the singles that were released. (Of the singles, my personal favorite is “New Fears.”)