Sunday, May 15, 2011

FYC Replay: Vulcan & Vishnu with Leland Purvis

Now that CGS Super Show is over, I'm trying to really get back to this blog. One of the aims I had with it was to archive all of my columns from when I wrote for the Pulse back in 2007-2009. So, here is the next installment of For Your Consideration, looking at the wonderful, and sadly unfinished, Vulcan & Vishnu from Leland Purvis. And note that this piece, and the attendant interview, were done in late 2007.

FRONT PAGE: Following the travels and travails of two working men in search of riches, Vulcan & Vishnu is a classic adventure serial told with intelligence and obvious enjoyment by its creator, Leland Purvis. With two multi-book deals that will see Purvis’s art sprung upon an unsuspecting public later in 2008 through 2009, this is a great chance to “discover” this impressive cartoonist before everyone else does.

The 411:

Vulcan & Vishnu

Written and drawn by Leland Purvis

Webcomic available at


What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

Encountering one another across a deep gorge, Vulcan and Vishnu – one with a donkey, the other a wagon – build a makeshift foot bridge, dropping the keystone into place just as their temporary staging falls away. Vishnu leads his donkey across to join his new companion, but not without a bit of trepidation as the ass halts halfway, sending his master over the side. Clinging precariously to the harness, Vishnu dangles above the deep crevasse, and there seems to be no help for him as the donkey remains glued to its spot. But Vulcan acts quickly, brandishing an apple to entice the pack animal across. Grabbing the reins once it reaches his side, Vulcan pulls his new friend up from certain death.

Understandably enraged, Vishnu wants to be done with the animal. But his new friend reasons with Vishnu, asking if he wants to be the one dragging the wagon across the bare plains ahead of them. Settling down, they hitch the ass to the cart and set off. Thus begin the travels and travails of these two explorers from a bygone era, what appears to be the late 1800s.

That night, as the two men sleep, a large earthquake shudders through the layers of earth, sending the two men running out of their tent, fearful of any cracks that might form from this upheaval. Once things settle down, they discover their donkey has gone missing and their wagon is stuck in a sinkhole. Cursing the donkey, they dig out the wagon and settle in again for a less peaceful sleep than before.

The next morning, they set out with the wagon over their shoulders. Dragging it for some time, they eventually come across the donkey, its harness lodged in some rocks. Freeing it, they hitch the animal back up to the wagon and move along at a brisker pace. Making for the only city in the area, they come across another rent in the Earth. Not as wide as that which they traversed at the outset of their adventure, they peer into this gash in the rock and see an ancient edifice they assume was buried with the eruption of an ancient volcano.

Making their way down through the Ionic columns and past the scent of death, Vulcan and Vishnu, their donkey in tow, enter the centuries-old structure cautiously. Optimism and the hope of gold spur the two men on, sending them through a mysterious and Byzantine maze of tunnels. But will they discover untold wealth or the hidden death those who came before them encountered? Only time will tell.

Leland Purvis has created a wonderful comic that is unlike anything else you’ll find today – a piece of historical fiction about the adventures of two treasure hunters that is told without words. But that doesn’t mean this is a silent story. Purvis has ingeniously chosen to utilize images and symbols to convey the words of Vulcan and Vishnu, and it is as inspired in its execution as it is simple.

Purvis’s Vulcan & Vishnu evokes the feeling of wonder from the pulp fiction of the twenties through the fifties without the larger-than-life characters and exotic settings for which they are so fondly remembered. The story of these two adventurers moves along at a brisk pace, with obstructions popping up at every turn. But these men are up for the challenge, working to think their way out of tight spots and around more pliable ones. The thought that Purvis has put into this story is very welcome to this reader, and again, the resolutions for the characters’ predicaments are as simple as they are inventive. For readers, what appear to be impossible situations are navigated skillfully by the two men and leave the audience collectively slapping their heads wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It is a breath of fresh air to see such careful though put into a story.

Purvis’s clear artwork and precise storytelling are ideal for this type of wordless story and complements the tale he is creating wonderfully. Not unlike the tale being crafted, Purvis’s style evokes a golden age feel coupled with the refinement of a contemporary artist. He wastes little time in endless cross-hatching, preferring to delineate a clean, lush setting with characters that have a weight to them. These two adventurers, along with those people readers encounter in the latest installment, are three-dimensional characters that look as if they could be living up the street from you – if your street were lost in the barren plains where Vulcan and Vishnu find themselves.

Purvis also understands upon which details to focus. Having to carry readers through the narrative without the help of any spoken dialogue or captions, he needs to show the steady progression of activity through the images, and under the hand of a lesser artist it would soon become a succession of full to medium shots focused on the protagonists. But Purvis realizes that all the action is not taking place within this small window, and moves the “camera” around, finding just the right shot to convey the action, whether it be a close-up of a foot, a wide shot within the sunken edifice, or some other detail that allows readers not only to understand the story better, but also alleviates any tedium that might arise from a continuous parade of similar shots. Vulcan & Vishnu is a great lesson in how to tell a story with pictures.

Vulcan & Vishnu is one of the first webcomics I discovered and have continued to follow regularly. I had been aware of Leland Purvis’s art from some work he did with Jim Ottaviani, but before Vulcan & Vishnu, I had never taken the opportunity to read anything of his. The story of these two travelers is about halfway through its run at Act-i-vate, and if the first few hundred panels are any indication, this is going to be one helluva fun ride. I would recommend you to check it out. It’s new, it’s different, it’s great, and it’s free. How can you go wrong?

An Interview with Leland Purvis:

Chris Beckett: What is it about comics that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Leland Purvis: Originally, it was the drawing. I’ve been drawing since as early as I can remember. I think all kids draw but most stop after a while. When I realized doing comics was a way to integrate my continuing love of drawing and art with telling stories, it was clear that comics were going to be the thing for me.

Beckett: Why did you choose to make Vulcan & Vishnu a silent comic?

Purvis: I don’t think of it as silent, because the boys do talk to each other. But I don’t use any text. My thought with Vulcan & Vishnu as a webcomic was to explore it as a new medium. Digital rather than print. So I was thinking from the beginning about turning it into a pod-cast when it’s done. That’s why all the panels are the same dimensions. But at international postage-stamp size, I knew there was going to be no way to read any lettering once it was reduced for iPod reading. So it’s all pictures. And when they talk, they talk in pictures rather than words.

Beckett: Following on that, having produced Vulcan & Vishnu for a number of months, what is it you gain as a storyteller – or, more generally, what do you like about creating a silent comic?

Purvis: It does make for occasional problem-solving. If I want one guy to say something to the other, how am I going to make it clear? Text really does operate as a shorthand for meaning. So trying to get all the meaning across without taking up tons of room with visual explanations can be challenging and interesting.

Beckett: Is Vulcan & Vishnu planned to be released in print form at some point? And , if so, with all of the panels being the same size are you going to be able to play at all with page design in the print format or is this how the story was always envisioned?

Purvis: I would love for it to see print. But it does present certain logistical problems. It was designed to take in one panel at a time, and not with page-turn reveals in mind. It’s going to be between 700 and 800 panel-pages when it’s done, and a book at 800 pages, one per page just isn’t very practical. I could reformat a print version at 4-to-a-page, but it wouldn’t read the same. Who knows? Maybe Pixar will call and say they want to turn Chapter One into one of those pre-feature shorts they do…

Beckett: What other projects are you working on and when can fans expect to see them?

Purvis: I’m swamped with work right now. I’ve got a couple of contracts which will amount to five graphic novels. Three for First:Second, and two for Simon&Schuster. They’re all historical fiction, ranging from before the Revolutionary War, before the Civil War and into World War II. It will be late 2008 and into 2009 before this stuff starts hitting the stands. But there’s going to be a lot of material out there before too long.

Also, I’ve got some other irons in the fire, short stories I want to try and get out there and I’m developing an idea for the next webcomic after Vulcan & Vishnu.

And I’m also reminding myself how to paint. So, I’m staying busy.

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