Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #10 by Drew Barth
Series Update–East of West
In writing all of these articles so far, I mostly discuss the cool new thing. Yet on more than none occasion I have heard “But what about series that aren’t new? What about a series that’s been going on for a while now that isn’t Saga?” For those imaginary readers, I wanted to step back from what is just emering and take a look at a series that has been ongoing for close to six years now: Johnathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s East of West.
Anyone familiar with Johnathan Hickman’s work over the past decade will note that East of West carries so many hallmarks of his work: the white space, the consistent design element, the large, expanding cast of characters, and a nebulous story with a driving force at its center. These strains appeared in Pax Romana, The Nightly News, and Transhuman. But those series were fairly short, four to six issues a piece, while East of West has been running for over forty issue. While its publication schedule can get a bit spotty, the quality of the comic has never taken any kind of a dip.
East of West is about the oncoming end of the world, a grand vision of the apocalypse as perpetrated by the political insiders who would benefit most from the world plummeting into chaos. It’s hard not to see a contemporary analogy when the story’s less ambiguous villains are obsessed with a religious doctrine that foretells the coming doom. A summary of the story itself would seem like a fifteen year-old’s post-1984fever dream, but Hickman and Dragotta have been able to craft this finely-tuned pre-apocalypse story that can mirror, sometimes uncomfortably, what we see on the news.
East of West is also a story about a man looking for his son. That man is Death of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and his son may or may not be the Anti-Christ. Hickman is one of those writers that have this uncanny ability to make readers empathize with characters that may not deserve our empathy. Death’s journey has been long and arduous. We see it every issue where he claws his way through the American desert on scant trails for where his son may be held. It is through those failures and, at times, his reluctance to embrace his role as Death that Hickman builds that empathy. Death may be the ultimate doom for this world, but we want him to be happy.
We also can’t talk about East of West without also mentioning Nick Dragotta’s artwork and the marvel of silence he’s able to bring to the story. Many issues that deal with Death in some way almost always have this wonderful sequential narrative trick of silent scenery panels. These panels are establishing shots, mood makers for the rest of the story to come, and give the reader time to breathe or fully immerse themselves into the story. And moments like the one featured below are absolutely necessary. East of West is a loud book when the moment calls for it. Things explode. Many things explode when we’re hitting the climax of an arc, but Dragotta makes sure we’re given these crucial moments to give readers a bit of distance and calm. He’s well versed on hitting the peaks and valleys of a story, and every panel he creates only bolsters those points of tension.
After six years, East of West is hitting its final arc and it’s going to be weird no longer seeing it on new comic shelves every week, but its ending is absolutely well-deserved. Also well-deserved is the fact that East of West has been picked up by Amazon Studios to be developed into a TV series.
Get excited. The end is coming.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.