Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Written by Pat McGreal
Art by Stephen John Phillips, Rebecca Guay, and José Villarrubia

So, in a week where most internet comics discussion has been about how women are portrayed, I thought it might be interesting to read this little discussed graphic novel from 1999 - a time where Vertigo was much more experimental, rampant Islamophobia hadn't engulfed the Western world, and women in comics, well actually, they were generally pretty ridiculous then too.

Veils is a strange book no matter how you look at it.  It's a blend of fumetti (photo comic) and traditional, drawn material, with some digital effects thrown in for good measure.  It tells two stories.  The photographed one is about Vivian Pearse-Packard, the wife of the son of an ambassador or diplomat to the court of a Sultan.  It's not clear where or when this is taking place - it's vaguely set in Victorian times, at the height of the British Empire.  Vivian and her new husband, whom it's clear she doesn't think much of, are new to the Sultan's lands, and are invited to the Seraglio to meet with the Sadrazam - the Sultan's chief diplomat.  It's not seemly for Vivian to attend this meeting, so she is sent into the harem, where she passes time with Pakize, a woman who can speak English.

Pakize begins to tell her the story of Rosalind, another British woman who, in another time, became a member of a former Sultan's harem, eventually rising to the spot of his favourite.  As Rosalind's story is spread over Vivian's visits, the two tales take on a number of parallels.  Vivian's interest in, or adoption of, Eastern ways lead to conflict in her own household.

The story, by the writer of the excellent Chiaroscuro, is very good, but it is the visual effects that suck the reader into the tale.  The photographs, by Stephen John Phillps, with digital effects by José Villarubia, work very well at evoking the exotic settings and people of this book.  Rosalind's story is drawn by Rebecca Guay, who I wish hadn't departed from comics for other realms of art.  Her work is lush and lovely, reminding me of Michael Zulli and Charles Vess, with a splash of P. Craig Russell. 

It's refreshing to read a book so centred on women outside of their elements, who learn to exert their authority and inner strength.  It's sad that the themes are almost as rare as North American photo-graphic novels.

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