The initial run of Manga inspired, teenage sports drama Fence comes to a conclusion in volume 3 released by BOOM! Studios this week. Collecting the final four issues of the 12 issue run, Volume 3 reaches an epic climax where everything is on the line for Nicholas, the central character.
Originally released at the later end of last year, Fence issues 9-12 continues, and in some way concludes, the story of Nicholas and Seiji’s rivalry as they fight to get into the Kings Row Fencing Team. For Seiji it is an easy walk into the final three but for Nicholas he has to battle every step. As the momentum of the story picks up pace, and with tensions running high, a showdown between the two rivals becomes the central point of the story, and this final collection.
Fence was originally planned as a 12 issue run and the story comes to a satisfactory conclusion in this volume however, there are plenty of narrative threads and budding relationships still to be explored. It is therefore not surprising that C.S. Pacat has announced that this is not the end of Fence. There is a Young Adult novel in the works and the potential for the series to continue as a run of graphic novels.
Bringing Fence Full Circle
Despite the potential for continuation, Pacat treats these final few issues as if the series is coming to an end. She winds up the story reflecting back on the very first issue. The rivalry between Nicholas and Seiji, the backbone for the entire run, reaches its zenith in these pages and the reader is treated to an epic confrontation.
However, the story wasn’t about Nicholas winning and being the ‘champion of the world’, just like Rocky in the original movie, Fence is a story about striving to be the best that an individual can be. It is about realising what is important and building friendships/relationships along the way. Pacat shows that Nicholas has worked up from nothing to fence with some of the best fencers in the world and she makes sure that his triumph is illustrated in the story.
By the end of this volume the reader can see just how far Nicholas, and in some respects Seiji, have come from their 2 dimensional beginnings in issue 1. They started as stereotypes and have grown as characters to be a complex mix of emotions and experiences. This form of storytelling is central to sports dramas, especially the widely popular Manga Sports series, and it is therefore no surprise that Fence has garnered a following.
Pacat has created a beautiful coming of age drama. The sport allows the drama to be drawn out, giving the characters a reason to fight or support each other. Budding relationships spring out of their shared problems but hearts are also broken. Fence focuses on the two central characters but Pacat has populated the comic with a large array of characters for the readers to fall in love with. If you want readers to come back month after month, give them someone to relate to, to follow. Pacat definitely understands this and fills her story with a diverse cast so that there will always be someone for the reader to identify with.
To reflect the mix of high drama and schoolboy shenanigans, Johanna the Mad draws inspiration from Sports Manga art styles. There is a frivolity to some of the panels and pages which lightens the mood after tense fencing bouts. Johanna the Mad uses neat, simple line work which often gives the characters a newspaper comic strip look allowing the relaxed humour of the new friends to shine through. However, she is also able to turn this around so that the minimalistic style heightens the drama of a fencing match or argument between characters.
A lack of background detail, mixed with the all-white fencing uniforms, hones the storytelling and focuses the reader’s attention on one specific moment. Background characters become faceless sketches as the emphasis is drawn towards the cast members that Pacat and Johanna the Mad want you to focus on.
Johanna the Mad has a wonderful talent of switching between the simplified, comical figure work and more detailed, emotional acting for the characters. This makes the narrative skip along at a comfortable pace, breaking up the moments with humour and allowing the reader to share in every aspect of these characters lives. The comic is about the growing relationships between the fencers and the art work represents all aspects of these relationships: the conflicts and the camaraderie.
Due to the nature of the artwork, the coloring exists manly for emotional emphasis. Joana Lafuente uses block background colours, simplifying the panels and drawing attention directly to the foreground so as not to detract away from the narrative punches. What becomes clear in this collection is that Lafuente is skilled at expressing emotion and character via signifying colors and a minimalistic use of these colors. The constant changing colours from one panel to the next highlights the difference between the characters and their emotional states at any given point. The inked lines lead the narrative action but the colors express the emotional experiences.
Jim Campbell does a wonderful job with the lettering, taking a lot of exposition and making it almost invisible over the art work. One of unique elements of this comic is the use of thought balloons, a technique that is sorely lacking from comics today, having mostly been replaced by caption boxes. Nicholas is a very thoughtful character, constantly doubting himself and overthinking situations and Campbell illustrates this with the thought balloons that surround the fencer.
Fence is enjoyable and has been an entertaining read from day one. It allows itself to be high drama and juvenile humour but makes no judgement on either, accepting that many states of being are allowed at the same time. The characters Pacat has created are growing into adults and they are riddled with all the emotions and insecurities that all teenagers the world over have to contend with. Fence says that it is okay to have these conflicting feelings and helps the reader to work through them with the characters.
The depiction of Fencing has been a joy to read, especially as it has acted as a reflection of the character’s development and not just an excuse for sporting action sequences. This third volume is a perfect end to the first part of the story and a wonderful springboard for future stories. It is also a very easy book to pick up and read, even if you haven’t read any of the previous volumes. There is an instant connection made between the central characters and the reader so that you immediately feel at home no matter where in the story you start.
Obviously, Fence is aimed more towards the teen market. The coming of age story-line is more often identifiable for a younger audience. However, it is also a lot of fun and the artwork is impressive. This comic would suit fans of sport comics in general, especially those who enjoy Manga, but it is also fun escapism for anyone who wants to indulge themselves in some high school drama.
Fence Volume 3 feels like a conclusion in some ways but also a starting point. There is a definite sense that this is merely the End of the Beginning.