Written by Eric Borden, with art by David Mims and lettering by Spike O’Laochdha, Alterna Comics’ new title Scrimshaw #1, begins, like many first issues, with a few pages of narration. Borden keeps the wording concise, letting Mims’ images do the talking and keeping what commentary is there cutting and essential. Global warming has melted the polar ice caps. While some people managed to take to ships, others were wiped out by the rising water levels. It’s the doomsday scenario we’ve come to fear but instead of the world ending, the series looks at ways people survived and how the global landscape has been changed by crisis.
Japan, constructing a great wall around its perimeter to keep the water at bay, stands as one of the countries most intact. Walls have always held trepidatious roles in history and this one is no different. It’s here, on land, that the first issue takes place, an interesting choice for a story that revolves around a ship’s crew, who appear briefly towards the end. Attachments are fast to form. A makeshift family from all over the world (reminiscent of the great Firefly, their ship, the Runaway Horse, travels across oceans instead of space), Captain Hans’ loving introductions for each member make them an easy and immediate team to root for. We get to know Hans and his best friend, Saigo’s, friendship well during this issue, as they carry out business together in Tokyo, and, in avoiding the isolation of being at sea, farther layout the world around them.
I wasn’t expecting a story that came from such realism to also have fantastical elements, which led to a few dense moments on my part of trying to figure out, for instance, how the bouncer at their destination snapped his fingers in one frame and three identical back-up bouncers appeared in the next. In truth, the “click” wasn’t a snap but the bouncer pressing a button by his neck that replicated himself. That you need to acclimate to this world isn’t frustrating at all, but marks it as the ambitious project that it is, well-executed, with any quote-on-quote magic having a dark edge, like the source behind Saigo’s later revealed abilities.
Scratchy, thick ink paired with bright colors create an aesthetic that’s matte stain glass. The art stands out from other comics and pairs well with the Eastern setting, while eye catching characters conjure movement, whether it be Hans’ arm swing during an action sequence or the wind casually rustling leaves and clothing.
As a bonus, character profiles are a gift to readers, with rich backstories that raise excitement to meet the crew better in the next issue. I love that nationality means something to each of their identities, and the Moby Dick vibes at the end, a great tease, make more sense after reading these. Resist jumping ahead to this section if you can, because the world is so much fun to figure out as you go, but know that these profiles will give you a better bearing on areas the narrative hasn’t fully yet made connections between.
Scrimshaw #1 quickly strikes its own path, with distinctive characters and a desire to consider big issues like the environment and immigration. Unexpected elements of fantasy keep you on your toes. As a fan of overseas adventures, this comic endeavors to provide that and more.