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‘Carbon Grey’ Gives Khari Evans A Chance To Show His Stuff

A little swagger goes a long way. Carbon Grey, published by Image Comics, is a mishmash of World War I-era iconography, girl art, a little steampunk, and that “women are the deadliest of the species” flavor that helped make Quentin Tarantino and Kenichi Sonoda so well-known. In Carbon Grey, you’re getting guns, girls, and goons in a vaguely European setting. Doesn’t sound special? Well, believe me: it’s a chance for Khari Evans and the rest of the art team to show off. As far as I’m concerned, that makes Carbon Grey more than worth it, and I’ll tell you exactly why.

Carbon Grey has quite a creative team. Hoang Nguyen, Khari Evans, Paul Gardner, and Mike Kennedy are credited with the story. Paul Gardner gets sole credit for the script and lettering, while Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, and Hoang Nguyen share credit for the art. A text piece in the back of issue one reveals that Nguyen provided layouts, Evans penciled and inked the work, and Loh colored the finished art.

I found an art forum where Hoang Nguyen posted a couple of process pieces showing how the team comes together in the end. It’s an interesting an attractive visual style for a book, and Loh’s colors may make the art a little stiff, like film stills, but are generally beautiful in execution.

Explaining why Evans’s art is so worthy of praise in this style requires a bit of backtracking. A few years back, he worked on Daughters of the Dragon: Samurai Bullets with writers Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti. He was inked by Palmiotti and colored by Christina Strain on that book. He caught my eye here because his characters were full of attitude. They sneered, strode, and sashayed their way across the page.

In 2006, Strain was coloring Runaways and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane for Marvel. She was doing some great, expressive work, and had some clever techniques for showing make-up or skin tones. Her color art, when paired with Evans’s artwork, made for a very bright, pop looking comic. It’s all pretty people and fast cars, which is in no way a bad thing.

It did make me wonder, though, what would happen if you put some grime onto Evans’s artwork. What if you pulled back from the cape comics aesthetic of bold, bright colors and simple backgrounds? What if you used a more subdued palette and amped up the rendering?

Carbon Grey is what happens when you do just that. Evans and Loh are working together very well, and the result is a marked change from Evans’s work at Marvel, even his stellar work on Thor: Ages of Thunder. Loh’s colors have more in common with fantasy novel paperback novel covers than mainstream comics art, in that he avoids flat colors and tends to go all out with the rendering. Uniforms have folds, backgrounds have chunky gobs of color, and light sources shine a bright white on skin.

Evans’s pencils feel different, too. Judging by the uncolored art, he is both penciling more and less than he did on his Marvel work, rendering detailed backgrounds by providing inkwash-y skies and detailed foliage. Characters seem a bit thicker on average, more weighty, than they did in Daughters of the Dragon, as well. But he’s also drawing less, because there are panels where he clearly trusts Loh to complete the work. He’ll do detailed work on the figures and major objects in a room, and then just loosely sketch out the corners and walls, leaving that for Loh to render.

The combination of art and color is impressive. Evans’s work looks better than I’ve ever seen it look, barring the occasionally stiff pose early on. Together, they can pull off things like light, fluffy hair framing the face of a woman who is clearly feigning innocence, or a bit of impressively brutal violence in a two-page spread that is more focused on showing you how cool it looks than what exactly happened.

Carbon Grey isn’t for everybody. Its story revolves around four sisters — Eva, Anna, Mathilde, and Giselle — whose family has been the protectors of the Kaiser for ages. One day, the Kaiser turns up dead and a sister is implicated. The other sisters must hunt her down while evading their own pursuers. What follows is a burst of violence, intrigue, and sexy ladies wearing World War I-style fetish gear. It has a similar tone as Indiana Jones, though perhaps a bit darker, a bit more violent. The first couple issues introduce a lot of characters and lay down a lot of backstory, which is a lot to take in at first glance.

Despite the just-okay story, Carbon Grey is notable for the energy that Evans and Loh bring to the page. The art has real swagger, with bold uses of color, great facial expressions, and some beautifully painted fight scenes. Carbon Grey looks great, and I’m very pleased to see Evans pushing his craft forward, despite already being considerably talented.

You can purchase digital copies of the first two issues of Carbon Grey online right now. Issue 3 hits comics stores later this month.

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