Pipeline #1007: Velvety Goodness

'Velvet' wrapped up its 15 issue publishing run this summer. The ending gave me the final push I [...]

Velvet 1 cover
(Photo: Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser)

"Velvet" wrapped up its 15 issue publishing run this summer. The ending gave me the final push I needed to catch up on the series. With the various publishing delays it had, I fell out of the habit of reading the book.

With books like "Velvet," there can be a lot of details to keep fresh in your mind to get the most from it. Getting all those names and timelines straight is key to maximum enjoyment of the series.

For that reason, I highly recommend reading this series in as compressed a time frame as you can. I read it in one evening's sitting. Probably took about two hours, maybe a little less. That's not too bad for 15 books, including a double-sized final issue. It's not that the scripts lack words, but that the excitement of the book as you get further along pushes you to keep reading without interruption.

It is, as they say, a real page-turner.

"Velvet" is the series at Image Comics from Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser, and Chris Eliopoulos. It's the tale of Velvet, who starts the series as the secretary to the head of a spy organization in London. Very quickly, we learn she has training as an operative. She's investigating her own organization using all the tools and techniques they gave her. It takes the next 14 issues to track it all down to its shocking conclusion. It's a good one.

And even better? No demons. No werewolves. No superhumans. No aliens.

This isn't a mash-up of genres. This is a spy series. Just a spy series.

The closest we get to anything like that is Velvet's experimental stealth suit, which allows her to jump off buildings and glide through air on the wings the suit creates for her. It's Velvet as a flying squirrel. It's used sparingly throughout the series, creating a nifty action mechanism and a great visual for Steve Epting to draw.

It's a great story. There's lots of everything you'd want in a book like this, storywise. Brubaker knows what he's doing. Let's skip over every cliche internet reviewer trope here and ignore the writer from here on out in favor of everyone else.

The Art

The whole shebang is set in the late 60s/early 70s, giving Epting a chance to draw lots of different things, like fashion and cars. Also, characters can smoke freely.

The time frame is important for reasons I won't go into, but there's a reason. Also, any story a writer can do without having to deal with cell phones has to be easier...

Epting's art simplifies a tad as the series progresses. Lots of the fine detail drawn into the shadows in the earliest issues disappeared in many of the panels of the latter ones. That didn't make the art bad, by the way. Epting's style can sometimes be so ornate that his "dialing it back" still holds more linework and detail than lots of other artists today. In some ways, it almost looks more 1960s Marvel inspired near the end, which isn't a bad thing for a series set right after that time period.

It's something you might not notice if you read this book as it came out. Look at it all at once now, and you can see the evolution.

A nice bonus in the series is that, after the first storyline, there's a title page (sometimes a double spread) by Epting that's done in black and white. Not sure if Breitweiser colored it or not. It's just a nicely drawn image of Velvet with the title blended into the art. For the first storyline, the title page was pure text, designed (I'm guessing) by the letterer, Chris Eliopoulos. Those worked well, too, as a point of visual interest. The addition of Epting's images, though, worked even better. They're beautifully done.

The Coloring

Elizabeth Breitweiser is an amazing colorist. She's working on a comic here without the crutch of colorful superhero costumes. She's coloring in offices and restaurants and car chase scenes and train interiors. But she ties them all together. Her styles remains consistent throughout all those locations, with very bright highlights from light sources contrasting a generally gloomy world.

There's a lot of the orange and teal coloring scheme that's so popular in movies these days in this book. With so much of the book set at night time, with lots of characters wearing lots of black -- from the stealth suit to trenchcoats and business suits -- the heavy blues feel like a natural fit.

To contrast that, the oranges on the opposite side of the color wheel are a natural fit. Whether it's a sunny window or a gun shot blast or the city lights, it helps balance out the images and keeps them from being a murky mess of gray-ish blue.

There are whole scenes where Breitweiser colors everything in two colors. There's a cocktail party in the third issue where the only two colors are the uniform skin color everyone has, and the nondescript brown of the background walls, ceiling, and tablecloths.

She doesn't use textures for her colors. That is, she's not using a photograph of marble to superimpose onto the image to create a marble floor effect, at any opacity. No, she's using different brushes to color things in with rougher edges, perhaps, or she blends colors together at interesting angles to approximate the feeling of a texture in a reflection. It's fascinating to look at the technique and pick it apart. This book is effectively painted, not pieced together in layer in Photoshop, even if that is the same tool she used.

As the series moves along, Breitweiser experiments a little bit, pushing the colors and their contrast further. You can see it in particular near the end of the series when the action moves to Washington, D.C. The highlighted portions get extremely bright, first of all. Those yellows get pushed to being almost whites.

Velvet color
(Photo: Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser)

Even more interestingly, there are bright highlight colors that appear in blocky areas without regard to the surfaces they sit atop. The coloring becomes even less literal, mostly in the way it's drawn on the page, not with the color choices. See that yellow patch of light on the guy's upper arm and shoulder? It bleeds out in a geometric way.

The Lettering

Chris Eliopoulos handles the lettering in his usual effortless-looking style that, generally speaking, draws no attention to itself.

He uses a number of different fonts in the series, thought. There's the mixed case font for Velvet's internal monologue. There's the change of font to indicate a foreign language is being spoken in lieu of the usual double chevrons. And, of course, there's the series standard all uppercase font used in most of the dialogue. It's tight, it leaves room for lots of balloons in lots of panels, and it's easy to read. What more could you ask for?

There are even more fonts than that, but they're used in very definite ways to clue the reader into what's going on. They approximate the look of a rubber stamp on an old file folder, or the typed words of a book manuscript, and other very specific things. Eliopoulos keeps things simple, even as he has to use more and more fonts. They each have their purpose, and that purpose is always obvious to the reader.

Velvet lettering block
(Photo: Chris Eliopoulos)

The one technique I wanted to point out here, though, is the way Eliopoulos handles the location descriptions at the beginning of a scene. They're tall block letters that sit flush to the left and top borders of the panels they sit in. It looks great as the letters effectively bleed into the white gutter areas. The letters sit on top of the panel borders, so the black lines around the panels disappear where the letters are.

I bet this technique would be even more interesting in a book where the artist doesn't use black panel borders at all.

I should note that Clayton Cowles lettered the 13th issue. It's a seamless change. If you didn't read the credits, you'd never know.

How To Get It

All issues of "Velvet" are available digitally through Comixology or ImageComics.com. The entire series is collected in three trade paperbacks, the last of which is due out at the end of September. I haven't seen any word on a deluxe hardcover collection, but I wouldn't be against one coming out someday.

"Velvet" is a great read, and one I'd encourage you to give a try.

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