As a comic traditionalist, I have pretty much thought by now that I had seen and or read just about every style of story from most every perspective. However, in my time with Geek Vibes I have found that I wasn’t even close. Especially with so many different venues for creators to work with. Thus, I am always fascinated when something truly original (in my eyes) comes before me. That is the case with Mad Cave Studios Pantomime. Written by Christopher Sebela and drawn by David Stoll, it represents a concept that I hadn’t considered and man have they done it well. Call me very intrigued. So what is going on here that has opened my eyes? Let’s dig in…just a bit.
Wayfair Academy for Special Needs
This story is basically about a group of school children. They all share the same physical trait. They are deaf. Some from birth and some later on but all attend the same school. Wayfair Academy for Special Needs. It is a good school. But of course, not all the kids see it that way…at least at first. Such is the nature of most kids, especially when it is new to them. This was definitely the case for Haley and Max.
They had just arrived at the school, being sent by their relatives who had inherited them when their Mother passed. It was just easier that way, at least for the relatives. But it was what their Mother had wanted for them. As for Haley, she didn’t even care for the name of the school initially. Wayfair Academy “for Special Needs.” She refused to believe their “needs” were special. However, the important thing was that Max was there. He had always told her they would not be separated. Max was usually right about most things. There was a comfort in that.
Making New Friends
As they slowly became acclimated, Haley found that she enjoyed the school. Most because of her new friends. People she could really “talk” to. In time they formed their own little posse. They all got along for the most part. All kids have occasional disagreements. But they were a team and Haley felt like she fit in, maybe for the first time.
Kestrel was Haley’s favorite. She wasn’t deaf per say. She suffered from “selective mutism.” She could speak physically, but there was a block preventing it. One to this point that she couldn’t overcome. That was a huge burden for her to bare… to be that close to “normalcy” but not. You couldn’t tell it, though. She was nice to everyone.
Then there was Harry. He was very withdrawn for the most part. But he was a really smart…and he spent as much time as he could studying, learning, making himself even smarter. Harry wasn’t born deaf. It came later on due to bout with Meningitis. This made him sometimes sullen and angry. Not at other people, but at his circumstance. Fate or whatever had made the decision that he would lose something he once had. But in time, Harry came around. Haley did all she could to make that happen. It was always good to have a big brain around.
Then there was Lexi. Harry liked Lexi. Although he tried to hide it. But everyone knew. And why not? Lexi was the most popular girl in the school. She was born deaf, just like Haley. But she was always happy, outgoing and people just were drawn to her. In private however, she was burdened with that responsibility. Having to always be up, and to try to keep everyone around her up as well. Haley liked that about Lexi. Even with her popularity, which she seemed to carry with ease, she was as conflicted as every other kid.
The First Caper
There’s always a catalyst that starts the ball rolling down hill. In this case, it was when Max’s teacher Mr. Kendrick decided to confiscate his cell phone. Max was visibly upset and couldn’t get over it. This put in motion a plan for Haley. What if they broke into Mr. Kendrick’s office and took back Max’s phone. What if they took all their things back. It’s not like it’s a crime. These are our things. It’s more like a game.
So that is what they did. They made a plan and it went off without a hitch. They were all so excited. Not so much about getting their things back as much as pulling it off. Haley was especially thrilled by their nighttime caper. It had started an itch that needed scratching. She wanted to do it again.
That opportunity would come knocking in a few weeks. It turns out that Lexi’s parents were involved in things they shouldn’t have been. It lead to their arrest. But now that they were in legal jeopardy, her brother Kenneth needed all their money to help their parents. They could no longer afford for Lexi to attend the school. She would be there until the end of the semester that was paid for. That ball was getting ready to roll again. But this would be no simple school office break-in.
Haley suggested they plan another mission. One in which enough money would be obtained to pay for Lexi’s tuition. She knew they could do it. She remembered now much fun it was to plan something and have it go just as intended. They just needed to do it again. Lexi was thrilled they would do that FOR her. They were all in. Now, they just needed to decide where they would go. Lexi provided their target. It was some acquaintance of her parents. She had sat in the car once while they went inside the house. He was wealthy and a “bad dude” as Lexi described him. Lexi drew them a crude map of the house and they were in the planning stages.
It took a number of weeks to iron out the details. They planned everything out, including an excuse if they were caught. They would say that a video game told them to do it. Oh…well OK then..Case dismissed.
They recruited Lexi’s brother to drive them to their target. Apparently Kenneth was already tied into his parents “business” so he didn’t need much convincing. He would also provide for a way to liquidate whatever they appropriated…AKA Stole. Just as before, their planning paid off and their excursion went without a problem. Haley was even more excited than the first time. Their whole group was. They had helped Lexi, and the adrenaline rush was exhilarating. At least for a bit.
There’s ALWAYS Consequences
Unfortunately, it’s one thing to steal. It’s another of who you steal FROM. In this case, they hadn’t plugged that result into their calculations. That was a mistake…perhaps a fatal one. Max and Haley were walking back to their rooms, discussing their recent mission. It had went even better than Haley had hoped. It made her excited to think what was next. At least it did until they entered the room to find Kestral, Lexi and Harry on their knees, being held by two men. The man in charge welcomed them explaining that HE was the man they had stolen from. They had better pay him back everything with interest or he would extract an apology a more painful way. I assume he meant with the razor he was wielding. Well, THAT was fun while it lasted.
This was so unique that when I first started reading it, I didn’t quite realize what was happening. That is partially because I had not read any type of synopsis or anything going in. It is my habit to jump right in and see if the writer and artists can make it apparent what is transpiring from what is shown. In fact, Christopher Sebela and David Stoll did just that. But I was so engrained in the traditional way comic book dialogue works that I didn’t even realize what was happening. The word “bubbles” were going to their HANDS, not their mouths. Which makes all the sense in the world since they were using sign language. Score One for Mr.Sebela and minus one for yours truly.
Artist, Colorist, Writer and Letterer Working Together
Because of these circumstances, it was extremely important for artist and writer to work in concert to represent this. For artist Davis Stoll, that meant that he needed to pay special attention to the characters hands as well as their facial expressions. If this represented a challenge, he answered it and pulled it off well, emphasizing the hand movements that articulated their speech. If this has been done elsewhere in this type of book I haven’t seen it.
It also placed a great deal of importance on the written word. These “subtitles” were the only way to really express the story. This made letterer Justin Birch another integral member of the collective effort. With that much dialogue, it requires the letterer to be on their game. Birch was up to the task. I also liked how those who actually spoke were represented by illegible lines. Just as you might expect for those who cannot hear. When added to Dearbhla Kelly’s Color work you get a cohesive well put together whole in what is a very unique project.
‘Pantomime‘ is Different
Pantomime is different. That in itself is a great recommendation. The story it tells is not necessarily what sets it apart (although it is a good one). What sets it apart is the setting and the Characters represented. Characters who, other than being deaf, are just like any other children. They make friends, they make bad choices, and they have each other’s backs. The last part would prove to be the most important thing of all going into the next issue. I encourage you to check out Pantomime when it comes out. Tell us what you think and perhaps if you know of another story similar. If so, share it with us here at Geek Vibes Nation.
Senior Writer at GeekVibesNation – I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 17 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.