Published by Improper Books
More information can be found on the Improper Books website
Review by Miriam Atkinson
I did not know what to expect from Butterfly Gate. For me, butterflies are synonymous with beauty and life and the brief blurb informed me that this would be a fantasy story. However, upon seeing the front cover – a brother and sister wearing clothes dripping with blood and the outline of a not-quite-human face hanging ominously in the sky – I knew this book was not going to be the innocent adventure I had imagined.
Benjamin Read, Chris Wildgoose and their team have created a silent comic with Butterfly Gate. Silent comics are a departure from regular comics and graphic novels because they do not include any dialogue or sound effects – they are completely silent. The book follows a brother and sister as they discover the Butterfly Gate, a doorway between two worlds. Once in the new world the siblings accidently find the dark past of war that this land has kept hidden.
Having never encountered a silent comic before, I was uncertain a story could be told solely through pictures and, having finished the book, I am still not entirely convinced. For the first half of the comic, the combination of storytelling and illustrations work brilliantly together. Set in our world, the beautiful drawings and vibrant colours drew me into the story. I had no trouble understanding the narrative, all of which I found highly enjoyable including the gruesome twist at the end. The illustrations also subtly expressed the personalities of each sibling – the cautious brother and the determined, desperate sister.
However, once the story entered the fantastical second half I found the silent element began to struggle. I was able to follow the basics of the narrative but, for me, the fantasy elements were harder to grasp. In novels, authors are able to include lengthy descriptions of the world they have created, but silent comics are more limited. They need to express all that detail in a single picture. If not for the blurb I would not necessarily have realised that the battle depicted was a revolution or that the mystical inhuman beings were gods. The illustrations cannot explain why the revolution happened or which side was in the right. Later, the story dives into the great depths of the sea. Although atmospherically appropriate, I found that sometimes the dark blues, greens and black outlines made it difficult to see what was happening in the gloom.
Perhaps I expected too much from this silent narrative. Butterfly Gate certainly manages to tell a story and it allows the reader to use their imagination. A short and fast-paced comic – perhaps a little too fast-paced in places for my taste – it’s filled with incredible illustrations and has opened my eyes to a new form of storytelling. It ends with the ever ominous “to be continued” and, while Butterfly Gate was confusing in places, I would still be interested to see what happens next.