Shadowland by Tobias Elmore and Ken Bastard – Comic Review

Shadowland by Tobias Elmore and Ken BastardShadowland is an indie comic written by Tobias Elmore and illustrated by Ken Bastard. It’s by and large a cop story with a mysterious supernatural undertone, and for a self-produced indie comic, Shadowland has some admirable qualities although there’s a lot of room for improvement overall.

The story opens with Detective Ian Gates waking up in hospital where he’s been unconscious for two days. The volume follows Gates’ recollecting the events that landed him in hospital as his amnesia clears – his wreck of a personal life, his epic whiskey bender and somehow ending up saving the mayor’s daughter and killing two thugs in the process as well as an encounter with some kind of malevolent supernatural creature. As Gates tries to piece together what has happened to him, he’s also getting the hard word from his Lieutenant and internal affairs.

Shadowland is a generally passable and quite typical cop story even with its supernatural themes. Ken Bastard’s black and white illustrations are reminiscent of something we could have expected from a hard boiled dick strip in a newspaper fifty or sixty years ago and even though the story is set in the modern era, that old school quality is a big part of the charm of this indie comic. Because Shadowland is operating within such a formulaic genre, it also lets us forgive, just a little bit, that this is a deeply formulaic story. The characters are two dimensional types and we’ve seen them all before in just about every cop comic, movie, TV show or book ever made. The dialogue too is pedestrian and uninspired.

The grungy aesthetic of the self-produced indie comic together with the hardboiled detective story could have been a fantastic playground for some innovative storytelling with interesting characters pushing the edges of such stiff genre boundaries. It’s a shame though that Shadowland for the most part just contributed to the clichés of the genre without any sense of even trying to do something new.  By the time the supernatural elements come into the story at the end and the major drawcard of the story starts to raise its head, I was already less than interested in the story and the characters to really pay it that much attention.  On their own though, these dark otherworldly mysteries were nicely done and really suits the gritty styles of the visuals. I think the book as a whole would have benefited enormously by giving us more of a glimpse of this earlier in the story and spent less time with the dull interchange between the Detective and his Lieutenant.

Stylistically, again, the visuals do suit the subject matter. Ken Bastard’s sharp lines and black and white angles give a nice shadowy tone to the book. Some panels though do look a little overdone, though this is often more to the fact that this is so dialogue heavy and there are often far too many words jammed into each bubble. Too many words and a poor choice of letting made for some difficult reading at some parts. And I can’t not mention a few occurrences of some misplaced apostrophes of ownership. It happens. The cover art doesn’t do any justice to the interiors. As a concept it’s fine, but the colouring is messy and those blood splatters just look amateur.

Overall, as a first release indie comic, Shadowland is a decent effort and I’m sure die-hard fans of the genre will get a mild kick out of it.


Kate Krake

Kate Krake (aka Kate Murphy) is a writer with a long established passion for all realms of popular culture. She lives in Brisbane, Australia. Find out more on Kate's Blog.