Halfway Point Part 2: Art: The Other Side of EFC Review by Tom Pahlow
There are so many moving parts to the Earth's Final Chapter series, a vast story told in small interconnected but independent stories. Characters and plots from across the post-apocalyptic world interact, oppose and explore their own narratives. All the while, their voices and the tones of their stories are told by a range of guest authors alongside the mastermind of the whole series, Julian Fernandes.
But today, I don’t want to talk about the authors at all. I want to talk about the other half of what makes EFC the immersive community that it is. Today, I want to talk about the art and those who have added their illustrative voices to the series.
While I’m sure that by the end of the EFC there will be a veritable army of artists who have contributed to the series, for now the list is only at 21 names spanning 31 stories. A number that is manageable for now.
For a while, I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach this review. Should I list each artist and expound on their style, invaluable contribution to making the series what it is and comment on their art? I have a feeling I’d have another entry for the series with how long that would be. So, I will save those for more individual pieces to make them digestible and give each of the artists the in-depth and respectful analysis they each deserve.
Instead, I will be content to approach the art the same way that I approached the prose. If, in the process of discussing the art generally as well as some standouts and regulars, I happen to mention names, then I hope none of you will think less of me.
The World of EFC
Right off the bat, I have a confession. I’ve never been particularly visual. Descriptions in books don’t generally paint a picture in my head and unlike many people I talk to, I don’t get an internal movie when I read.
Don’t get me wrong, in no way does it affect my enjoyment of reading, but it means that I love anything visual attached to a book. Seeing a scene that I’ve just read, illustrated by an incredible artist, gives me a glimpse of the world I’m reading. It immerses me in the details of a story in a way that I don’t get from just words.
The EFC series is packed with the details of a world trying to rebuild and the text is accompanied throughout by illustrations. Its vast and altered landscapes, the Mega Cities, new cultures, mutations and advanced technologies are all shown in their splendour. And horror.
Nature has reclaimed much of the world within EFC and the artists do an incredible job showing us the new world order. Almost all of the artists give their renditions of an earth regrown and reclaimed by nature, albeit a heavily mutated and often terrifying version of it.
In many ways, the series seems to be about regrowth. In the ruins of a nuclear holocaust, Nature has reclaimed much of the space previously inhabited by humans and a lot of the art within the series shows a new wild frontier. From Luiz Bazzan showing us the tropical island hiding Bunker 787, all the way to the desert surrounding Razorback Lounge by Subaru Kodama. Even the sea has undergone drastic changes and Sergei Kritzien’s illustrations for Chibuzo gave me new reasons to be afraid of the open ocean. Who knew whales could be so scary?
The changes extend beyond the landscape and I don’t envy the task of the artists having to show us the new mutations humanity has undergone, as Nicole Slater, Arjit Gupta and Koushik Ghosh did.
Almost all of the artists had to depict mutations and it was a joy to see how each approached them. Some giving us hyper, and disconcerting, realism while others leaned into the cartoonishness of hybrid humans.
Just as humans and the very earth have been altered in EFC, so too has the wildlife. taking a turn for the strange and terrifying. Like the fearsome Octoguanorex as both Maria F Loscher and Patricio Rodriguez portrayed in Kay and Elutheramania respectively. A creature my non-visual brain struggled with to put form to until I saw it in all its rainbow glory.
Which leads in to one of the things I have loved seeing with both the writing and the art. A handful of the current EFC stories overlap and show the same scenes from different perspectives. None more so than the two I just mentioned. Both artists show a handful of the same scenes with their own unique styles. While I feel a comment about the philosophical implications of individual perception would be great here, I shall refrain for the sake of not boring everyone reading (bold of me to assume anyone is reading I know). Suffice it to say that I found seeing the same locations, characters and even scenes drawn with different hands truly enjoyable.
One of the many benefits of having a roster of guest authors telling the story of EFC is the diversity this allows for each narrative. Same goes for the art. EFC’s range of artists makes each book, each story, uniquely independent. From Sci-fi Noir to Pixaresk, the illustrations perfectly match the tone and feel conveyed by the writers.
A few, in particular, stood out to me while I made my way through EFC. Their styles, or even a specific image, have stayed with me even now. So, congrats I guess!
Possibly my favourite images in the whole series were by Alejandro Arevalo in The Hunter & his Hounds. Slightly surreal illustrations that match the slightly surreal figure of Madam Gwendolyn and her Baba Yaga like house. It gave me chills seeing the purple eyes and hazily detailed crone followed by the walking house in Arevalo’s minimalist brushwork style. It was probably helped by the fact that I find the Hunter a strangely compelling and enigmatic character.
Almost at the other end of the spectrum are Massimiliano Longo’s detailed illustrations for Shadow Agent, the first story in the third Short Tales book. Reminiscent of a sci-fi or punk Noir, Longo’s artwork perfectly reflects the content of the story. I was amazed by the incredible detail and the sense of depth in each illustration. Especially with each of them uses generally shades of one colour with black outlines. I can’t wait to see more.
Somewhere in the middle are the comic book and Disney like illustrations of Daud Al Khalis and Ekaterina Soyuznova in Ever-Life and The Kingdom. Featured in the EFC Winning Collection and Short tales: book two. Khalis’ depictions of the absolutely horrid Rezag, shown in panels of two or more images at a time, give you a sense of the action and emotion within the story. Similarly, the thrilling competition of the Grease Games in The Kingdom show action and excitement with a style that reminded me of Disney or Pixar at times. Truly a fun mix and an example of the different styles that make the art of EFC what it is.
Action, complexity and the sometimes-darker side of humanity are often themes in the series. Throughout it all, though, is the message of hope. This is perhaps why I found Bora Arslanbulut’s illustrations in Promised land so interesting. A story largely about the blossoming of hope in the darkest of times, the illustrations all have a relatively dark palette. Even as the story begins to turn for the better, the only character to shed light is the protagonist, Krystof. The final scene in particular hints at the beginnings of light with Krystof illuminated while the rest are shown in shadow. Seems…foreshadowing (too much?).
Almost working as a counterpoint to the light found in dark places are the illustrations by Mikaylah Burton in Wilding. At first glance, the illustrations can seem simple and reminded me of some of the early Harry Potter illustrations. As I looked at them more though they struck me as a perfect match for the story. On the surface, Tommos seems naïve to the world, particularly the one outside Eden, but as the story progresses, he shows a surprising depth and complexity. The same can be said for Burton's illustrations, on the surface simple but hiding complexity and depth in their details.
The stories around Homestead have a special place in my heart and Anastasia Nesterova’s Illustrations for Homestead Refugee have only made it dearer. Shifting from Hawkin’s realism in Homestead Hunts, Nesterova uses an almost watercolour style of art that reminded me of the powerful stories I read as a kid. Filled with incredible vibrancy and detail, her illustrations distil the power of the story into its visual form.
A handful of the artists have provided illustrations for several stories in the series. While I was looking back over the art of EFC it struck me how each of these artists changed up their style or seemed to grow as an artist.
One of my favourite artists of the series so far has got to be John Hawkins. Each of the three stories he has illustrated shows a different style that fits in perfectly with the narrative voice. Flipping between the storybook style of illustration he used for Last Ride in Short Tales Book 2, to a strange hyper-realism for Homestead Hunts (not an easy thing to do for a story with most characters being some hybrid between human and animal). Likewise, his art style for Brother Leon perfectly reflects the tone of each scene he chose to illustrate.
From the beginning, Sergei Kritzien has been a part of the EFC. Illustrating some of the early titles to come out of the EFC, his artwork has shown us the world from the wild Blackened Forest in Avinon to the high seas as seen by Chibuzo. Kritzien’s is the work that shows us the true breadth of the EFC world. Breathtaking landscapes and a contrast between technology and primitive cultures.
Looking over Maria F Loscher’s art for the series I can't help but feel as though I got to witness her style being formed. Showing us first Kay, with sharp angles and line drawings that went with the sharp twists of the story. Then sparrows mixing in an almost anime-like style for some of the characters. All the way to Intertwined with some spectacular watercolour backgrounds. Her expertise in character design clearly shines through with each of her works and helps the reader build bonds with the characters.
Reminding us that EFC is science fiction is Leonardo Guinard. Despite their obvious sci-finess, Guinard often focuses on the people in the stories, putting faces to the names and showing us somehow expressive static images. That’s not to say that he didn’t give us some truly sci-fi images, though. The image of the Ceu opposite the Alien spacecraft and the dusty looking cityscape of Casa Luna are perhaps two of my favourite illustrations in the series. And don’t even get me started on the two dream illustrations in Captain Taylor. It seems he just prefers to show us the people who make these stories interesting.
Kyo was the first EFC book I read and the illustrations are a big part of what made the story stand out in my mind. Marta Maszkiewicz manages to capture everything that is the underwater nation of Japan in the EFC. A culture steeped in tradition and pioneering scientific advances. I will forever associate EFC with the image of Kyo looking to the heavens in the Gia Tenshi. Returning to illustrate Outback Bordello, Maszkiewicz shows us a dirtier and more down to earth art style. Revelling in the outback and the grit and gore of the story.
Whatever your preferred style or subject matter, the illustrations of EFC have got you covered. The range of artwork fitting with every narrative is one of the things that makes EFC so engaging.
I think I’ve got my eye on some of the posters!