Martian Lit’s The Tessellation #1 is, quite frankly, terrifying. But it’s not necessarily a horror comic. Its scares go deeper than a typical horror story. The Tessellation isn’t about ghosts or nightmares. It’s about all the little, seemingly insignificant choices in life that can lead to all kinds of horrible consequences. Writer Mike Phillips, artist Hernán González, colorist Javi Laparra, and letterers Julian Darius and Steve Legge deliver a haunting first issue to this anthology series, all about how easy it is for your life to go off the rails.
What if every decision you (n)ever made, big or small, became a new reality, with infinite you’s living out those decisions. What if you could travel to these other realities, even observe other versions of you? Welcome to The Tessellation. This dazzling, mind-bending first issue tells four related stories in four separate “reality rows,” playing out horizontally through the issue… Buckle up for a new kind of anthology!
The Tessellation #1 marks Phillips’ first outing as a solo writer in comics. But you certainly wouldn’t know it. Phillips’ confidence in storytelling is what makes this issue so compelling. Instead of carefully setting up the rules of this narrative, Phillips throws readers right into the action. We see the life of our protagonist, James Beach, play out. Or maybe “lives” is the better word. At first, the issue seems to be stuck in a loop. The same scenes happen over and over. But as the issue progresses, tiny changes begin to occur. Soon, we’re witnessing massively different versions of one person’s life. And Phillips lets each of these moments speak for themselves. No explanations are provided, no exposition dumps occur. Instead, the reader coaxes answers out of every scene, getting fully immersed in the world this creative team has created.
It’s tempting to go into more details about the plot and the incredibly efficient script, but it’s the process of discovering these details that make this such a strong first issue. Phillips is a master of the golden rule of writing: “Show, don’t tell.” What seem like normal conversations are full of subtext. Little quips from characters are actually brilliant tools for Phillips’ worldbuilding. The Tessellation #1 is subtle and explosive, all at the same time.
González creates a visual rhythm in these pages. As the issue begins exploring the idea of multiple realities, we see rows of repeated images. But it’s when these realities begin to diverge that González’s work really shines. An image of a hospital bed is juxtaposed against an image of a bed from a brothel. Similarly, a scene in a graveyard mimics a panel of a couple fighting. The gravestones stand in a similar place in the panel as the couple did before. González seems to be showing that even James’ worst moments have become impossible to get back to. That reality is dead to him now.
González also hones in on each character’s body language in this issue. You can see the awkwardness of James trying to be a good dad. His shoulders are tense and his face is anxious. Elsewhere, you can see his casual anger or disregard for morality. It’s in the shape of James’ brow or the look in his eyes that González tells us everything.
Laparra’s coloring shows us a lot of the differences in James’ many lives. The James we meet at first, stuck in a prison cell, lives in a world that’s devoid of color. When his alternate self shows up, we see a huge difference. This version of James lives a colorful life. His panels are full of bright red signs and vibrant blue suits. He’s an adventurer. But the other versions of James are often just busy surviving. In their lives, we see when tragedy strikes that color slowly fades from each panel. Laparra is showing us visually how much each loss is affecting James’ outlook on life.
Darius and Legge’s lettering is brilliant. Right from the get-go, we see how they’re always changing up their font to show rhythm or volume. When James is confused by his lawyer’s presence, the cop in the scene has had enough. “fuckin’ jeez louise,” he says in small lettering. The lower case “F,” even the oversized “ee” in “jeez,” tells us everything we need to know to hear this line in our head. But that’s far from the only brilliant example of lettering in this issue. At one point, the rows on the page almost act as a kind of acceleration of events. We see bad things occur, and they get worse and more impactful as the page goes down. Darius and Legge mirror this in the sound effects. As the page progresses the sound effects get bigger and more messy looking, showing us the impact and destruction caused by each moment.
Martian Lit’s The Tessellation #1 is an incredible start to this anthology series. This creative team presents a complicated idea in a surprisingly simple way. Yet, they never overexplain or talk down to the reader. It’s a smart, tight script for a great new series. We can only hope there’s plenty more where that came from!
Check out The Tessellation #1 online! It’s available now as a PDF through DriveThru comics and on Kindle through Amazon. And while you’re at it, take a look at MFR’s interview with the fantastic writer behind this series, Mike Phillips.