"Fleeing Darkness #1": A fumbling, fledging start about religious persecution in Communist Korea
Written by Matthew Page and Jonathan Crosby, illustrated by Paolo Richard, Orlando Marlo and Tonin Neri, colors by Gregory Ottaviani and Ivan Nunez.
History is the story of victors to tell. Fleeing Darkness attempts to tell the story of one who was there when the history was unfolding. Issue #1 opens on 12th June 1942, Pyongyang, North Korea. The synopsis tells us that it’s a story of faith, courage, and honour amid a looming war in northern Korea. The American missionaries who have held a community longer than five decades are forced to evacuate, but the Korean-born Christian population have to be left behind.
A certain Professor Holt’s class on biblical studies is interrupted with a bang, and chaos ensues both within the story--and in the script of this comic. Firstly, a historical visual narrative requires a much deeper introductory explanation of the background of this world. For readers who are neither Korean nor American, this might be the first time they are reading about Communist aggressions on the American missionaries in the region. Moreover, the dialogues fail to adequately introduce the main Korean characters to the reader while a certain Dean Smith has his name hammered into the text at every opportunity despite occupying very limited real estate in the story itself, so initially, it becomes difficult to identify the intended protagonist of this story. Eventually, we find out our protagonist is Jae, who has a lot to lose.
The intention of Fleeing Darkness is pure but lacks articulation; it is edging towards a bigger narrative that will explore the conflict between faith and oppression and what a man will do to protect his family. The Korean Christians were being hunted down by the Communist army which forced them to worship in hiding. Jae, his wife Jang and their friend Chang, have a secret church fellowship and hold prayers while there are constant air raids, with the threat of bombs dropping on their farmlands. The illustrations within the regular panels try hard to convey their reality.
I did not like the character designs. Racial and ethnic identity could have been illustrated in various ways without reinforcing stereotypes, but unfortunately, the art style in this comic does just that. The facial expressions on the scared students almost looked like a display of Greek tragedy masks thanks to the collection of slit eyes and fuller lips. Maybe unintended, but all the same it reinforces the stereotypical physical attributes associated with Asians.
Proofreading is much needed: there are typographical errors in multiple speech bubbles. There is plenty of Korean words and phrases used throughout (Jagi, Appa, Gigi etc.) which could easily be explained with the help of footnotes instead of being translated in the same speech bubbles. The continuity of art is imbalanced, even in the same page: in one panel, Jang is wearing a yellow waistband, which then becomes thin as a wrapper belt, and in another panel swells as thick as a sash. The army personnel escorting Professor Holt out of the institute "lost" his badges within three pages.
But I really appreciate the colouring done by Gregory Ottaviani and Ivan Nunez. The full-page illustrations of the farmland and establishing page panels were beautiful to look at because of their colour/light/shadow play.
Fleeing Darkness has a really weak beginning, but I do want to see where they are trying to go with the narrative.