The nine-panel grid has experienced a resurgence in popularity. The layout with ties to essential comics creators like Steve Ditko and creations like Watchmen has become shorthand for seriousness and consideration. Yet it is a rare thing to actually witness it function as more than an effective diagram for comics storytelling, for it to excel and become an essential component in the comic itself. This is the exceptional leap that The Seeds #1 makes, and it is reflected in every element of its first issue.
There are multiple grids embedded in the first page alone. The hexagons of a bee's eye reflect the same structures of its hive reflect the structures of the comics page itself. Each layer reveals parallel structures between dramatically different forms, all of them assembled by a different creator. Dialogue overlays these panels discussing a topic that will only become clear as the structure progresses—in the moment it could be a relationship, the queen bee of the hive, or something else altogether. None of this is accidental. It calls into question the manner in which the comic itself is presented as well as the many perspectives that exist within that presentation. The careful variation of distance, moving away from a subject and then advancing again, creates a three-dimensional axis under which the two-dimensional page should be examined. There is much more to every element of what is present here and readers must engage with the very process of meaning-making in order to move forward. That's just page one.
David Aja and Ann Nocenti's new miniseries addresses similar themes to the work of novelist Paul Auster (previously adapted to comics by David Mazzucchelli in City of Glass) but with a less theoretical narrative. While their story takes place in a future with a walled-off zone without technology, possible aliens, and a vaguely cyberpunk aesthetic, it does not feel too distant from today. Journalism, technology dependence, and environmentalism are evoked as key concerns in distinct, but interrelated narratives. Talk of clickbait and forming your own narrative cannot feel too distant from any newsroom in an age where any disagreeable headline might be dismissed as "fake news." There is just enough space for readers to view this world as not being their own, and to then work through its core concerns about the nature of truth and the very act of creating meaning.
This construction rewards careful reading and rereading. The image of a hexagon can be found everywhere, from the eyes of insects to a seemingly innocuous tattoo. It calls into question the format of panels and how they build ideas from their purposeful combination on top and beside one another. There are no accidents within their combinations as perspective shifts on a single subject or vacillates between subjects. Like the creators and creations that made this grid iconic, it implores readers to consider the possibilities and purpose in the media they engage. The narrative itself is not so highfalutin. Nocenti has always blended her highest aspirations with the thematic approach of a hammer, as emblematized in her run on Daredevil and its consideration of violence. The stories within The Seeds tackle notions of truth through memorable characters, visceral scenes, and bold visuals. While the content might be challenging, the experience is satisfying on initial and subsequent glances.
It is impossible to avoid the asterisk of any first issue that the ultimate point and execution are unknown. Yet The Seeds #1 evidences more attention to detail and care in its construction than any recent publication that might be considered its peer. The series cares deeply about its form, themes, and narrative, and leaves no element out of place in any given panel. It provides a reminder of the potential richness of the comics page, delivering a reading experience that is simultaneously demanding and rewarding. The Seeds #1 is nothing less than an exceptional comic book, the sort that reminds us what art can achieve even in its mere introduction.
Published by Dark Horse Comics
On August 1, 2018
Art, Letters, and Design by David Aja