Each issue of Ritual appears to be self-contained. One story per issue. It’s a solid indy comic way of having an umbrella title under which to try out different things. Each issue is 24 pages and produced as a handsome magazine-sized comic printed on nice paper. Issue three is printed in two colors: an orangish pink and a purplish red that combine in places to make a very pleasing tone.
The new story is a sci-fi tale that starts off with an old woman telling her grandson a story of Biblical proportions about the perils of the city. The woman and the young boy are walking high amongst the cliffs overlooking the sea. The first page is a grid of landscapes with a sort of digital noise overlaying the images. The digital noise is rendered by hand and it sort of melts into the landscape and becomes part of the pattern of the cliffs. Ward is very adept at using the lighter of the colors to support the darker outlines of the landscapes and the figures. The digital noise reveals itself to be just that as the whole landscape and episode was a hologram that the old woman had created.
Before that reveal however we see a flashback (of the same woman at a younger age? It’s hard to tell only because she has a different nose but the same tattoo under her eye) of “what went wrong” in the city 62 years earlier. Ward switches from a six-panel grid to a three-tier set up with either nine or six panels to “open up” the flashback section. We see a young woman make her way through a large agitated crowd and lots of cops in riot gear. She and a young man make their way to the front line where the cops are. It’s political rally or a speech by the President. Everyone is yelling. The crowd and the cops square off. I was impressed at how fast this transition from open seaside cliffs to crowded city riot worked visually within so few pages. Ward is able to use a combination of layout shifts and color accentuations to reinforce the scene visually. The cops are all darker in value on the page and the way they are shown in counterpoint to the rest of the crowd rendered in lighter colors is very well executed. Crowd scenes are the types of things most cartoonists avoid so I enjoyed staring at the details in this scene. Then the layouts shift back to the six-panel grid to end the flashback. That’s solid comics-making in my book.
The grandson was just a hologram though and so was the landscape. The hologram ends and is “saved” by the command of the woman and then she is just walking around her futuristic looking house. Maybe the house is her computer? Either way the house or the computer then melts into a pattern and shifts into a new landscape at the woman’s command.
The woman then commands her computer to switch the landscape again and then Ward really shows off his soft coloring with some beautiful futuristic landscapes of the past. Or is it the present? It’s hard to tell which is part of the appeal.
Soon we are back with the young woman and man from the riot plus two other companions. They are recounting what happened after what we the readers saw in the flashback. Apparently the young woman saved the young man’s ass during the riot. I like this simple device that Ward uses in this story where he uses the stories that the characters are telling to serve as a counterpoint to the images on the page. They seem to support each other and balance each other out. Then the young woman tells another story. And then one of the others says she tells bad stories. It’s as though this story is about remembering stories. The story isn’t about that but it is about memory and “saving” our memory it seems. Ward sort of spells it out in the drawings.
The art is very soft feeling and there is a nice tension with the cautionary tale at the beginning and the riot the middle. The end breaks down into total abstraction and the value of the palette lightens to a pinky orange sun. This visual device appears to reflect the change that happened that day of the riot. It reads as the sun rising and then feels like it is a memory being stored by the young woman for the dark future. Ward is able to assemble three very different and distinct sections of a 24-page book and have it all cohere narratively and fade out into abstraction. Impressive stuff. Check it out.