Reviewed by Zoë Collins, Andy Fraser, Gina Perry & Shura Price from Todmorden Writers’ Collective
Writer & artist: Ann Nocenti and David Aja
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release date: 23rd December 2020
The Seeds is a dystopian, eco-ish, thriller-ish graphic novel, set in a near-future world where 1) rebels have retreated behind a Berlin-esque Wall, and created a society where tech is banned, 2) aliens have arrived to harvest the seeds of all life-forms on earth, 3) a journalist is trying to find the scoop of a lifetime, and 4) …several other sub-threads. It drew us in straight away; but once we were in, although we mostly loved it, we did have the odd doubt.
The artwork impressed us immediately. David Aja’s restricted colour palette (a duotone of black and a queasy yellow-green), and his murky, posterized shadow-and-light, set up the novel’s dystopian mood beautifully; and we each had one or two frames that we’d found so memorable that we could describe them without even looking, which is always a good sign. We also appreciated the skilful page composition; Aja, as you’d expect from an artist with five Eisner awards, is inventive in his use of the classic 9-panel grid, varying it to highlight key points in the story, or to speed us up or slow us down as we read.
But the story itself, by respected writer and filmmaker Ann Nocenti, didn’t entirely convince. It was interesting throughout, but a couple of us found it lacked cohesion in places. Sometimes it was simply too concise, with gaps between cause and effect that were too big for us to fill in; and sometimes, key narrative details were too deeply buried in the artwork – most of us said things like “Ahhhh… I totally missed [plot-point], because I hadn’t spotted [tiny detail in one panel…]”. Even once we’d clarified the plot, we felt there were maybe too many separate narrative threads going on (and too many background issues too: eco-disaster, societal divisions, the nature of journalistic truth, alien abduction), so that we didn’t feel fully immersed in any of them. Still, at times we did enjoy the multiple viewpoints, particularly the “Greek chorus” of birds and animals that commented on the action; and we liked how the multiplicity of threads led us to an ending that wasn’t too neat and resolved.
As for the characters, there was lots to like about them – for instance, we appreciated the refreshing fact that the main characters were female or non-binary; and that Lola using a wheelchair is just a thing, not an issue. But beyond these initial impressions, there was not quite enough character heft to absorb us. Astra the journalist is arguably the main point-of-view character – but by the end, we still felt like we didn’t really know her, or understand her motivation. We also wanted more of Lola and Race, her alien lover – we got a sense of the intimacy between them, but as characters they remained elusive. Possibly, all this is just a style choice – the Marvel/DC-ish emblematic approach to characterisation is not necessarily a bug, but a feature – but still, we ended up feeling that either more character detail, or more narrative clarity, would’ve lifted the book from good to amazing.
The Seeds is a great piece of graphic novel-ing, which we all really enjoyed and would recommend – but for us, it was the visuals that shone brightest.
Buy your copy of The Seeds here.
Todmorden Writers’ Collective is a group led by writers, and based in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, UK, which organises public events to foreground under-represented writers worldwide. Find us on Twitter @ItsTheTWC