Due to my paltry knowledge of comics, I had no idea that Paul Duffield was a very accomplished British comics artist. I came to know his work when he collaborated with Warren Ellis on FreakAngels. I remember when FreakAngels was still being published; I stumbled across it and I was delighted by the art most of all. (I’m extremely superficial, alright?) So when I found out Paul Duffield had a new project, The Firelight Isle, I started following it.
To my shock, not many people know The Firelight Isle. If you love comics and like supporting indie creators, you absolutely must check this out.
The Firelight Isle is set on another Earth, on an isolated island nation with a very fleshed-out civilisation and culture. It tells the coming of age stories of the weaver Anlil and her friend Sen as they’re about to be parted on their road to adulthood. Anlil has an important commission to make, and Sen is to undergo a mysterious trial. Their nation, Azul, is about to change: a visitor from beyond the sea has come with new ideas that will upset the status quo.
It’s difficult to describe the ambience and gorgeousness of the drawings, so here it is the animated trailer for The Firelight Isle.
It almost makes you wish someone would make an animated film out of it, doesn’t it?
What I like the most about The Firelight Isle is that it’s so clearly a passion project. The panelling is beautiful, and extremely creative. It perfectly blends the digital and print mediums. It may sound like a strange thing to say of a webcomic, however, actually it is not.
Each "chapter" of The Firelight Isle as a webcomic is called a "ribbon"—there are currently thirteen—a creative way of creating a single page within the digital medium to provide a seamless transition through that particular segment of the story. Paul Duffield’s long-term goal is to eventually publish it in print; each ribbon is clearly conceived as being easily segmented into pages for print, but always taking advantage of the layout and page freedom the web provides. Reading just flows throughout the page, with just the right amount of pacing to be able to parse out relevant details while appreciating the art. The speech bubbles have a flow not unlike that found in most weekly published manga, which makes for really engaging and dynamic reading: the text guides you from one relevant detail to the next.
If you want to know more about the process behind the creation of these astounding ribbons, you can read more here. For those more into manga, or if you want to read more on the topic, there’s this 2010 article over at The Hooded Utilitarian that breaks down how the visual language of speech bubbles works in both manga and comics; you’ll be able to see for yourself how that plays out in The Firelight Isle. Do bear in mind that, in art, there are no hard-and-fast rules, though.
I wish someone with a little bit more knowledge would talk about the lettering. The lettering is embedded within the story itself, and it helps shape the story into a cohesive whole. There is this panel, for instance:
See how the bell tolling has transformed the space around it? It’s a very creative way of conveying the urgency and volume of that sound. It is ominous: it means something will happen. (I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you though, so I'll stop there.)
Paul Duffield himself calls it an "anthropological fantasy," a fitting name since it centers around how Sen and Anlil live in their own society. What is most interesting is how much thought has gone into Azul’s society, clothing, etc. On Paul’s blog you will find out more about his whole creative process and updates on any upcoming work. He also has a Patreon, so if you have any money to spare on a very original creator, please sponsor him!
As for me? I’m going to give it another read.
Rosario is an early-twenties, outspoken woman, who likes to burrow between piles of books, and store miscellaneous trivia in her head.