Picture it: it’s your twenty-seventh birthday. Twenty years to the day since your dad first let you in on his adventures by taking you to the moon. Ten years since your dad died. You feel washed up, because you don’t have any new adventures to write about. You decline company from your best friend to go visit your dad’s grave. Just when you are settling into your feelings, a gang of transparent neon ninja-mummies attack and kidnap you, muttering menacingly about a sibling—but you’re an only child.
And that’s just the first issue!
Written by Joe Keatinge and drawn by Leila Del Duca (who both created the series), Shutter is a masterclass in dropping you in the middle of the action and giving you exactly the amount of information you need to follow along.
World Building through Images
Writers often struggle with world-building in a way that gives the reader enough information without info-dumping, particularly at the beginning of a work. Because comics trade in not just words but images, they can give a lot of information about the world in the first couple of pages—you just have to pay attention.
Just take Shutter’s first full-page spread. From it, we can gather plenty of background information about Kate Kristopher’s New York City. Yes, tattooed hipsters still walk their little dogs along the High Line. But look closer—does that woman have a lizard tail and scales?
The streets are filled with cars, but a giant bird also swoops between skyscrapers.
From this image, we know exactly what kind of world we’re stepping into, no dialogue or narrative needed.
Premise of Shutter
From this first introduction, we are thrown headfirst into a mystery about Kate’s past that involves long-lost siblings and possibly saving the world, a criminal gang of lions, and uber-violent bounty hunting wolves. This comic starts with the pedal on the floor and doesn’t let up through its entire run.
The comic spans five trade volumes (each trade is a collection of 5-6 single issues), which is the perfect length for a contained story. It’s like your favorite HBO miniseries that you can binge in an entire Sunday afternoon and it leaves you entirely satisfied with the story arc.
Shutter has plenty of tropes, and is a masterclass in taking well-worn (and loved) plot and character beats and making them feel fresh. Kate is jaded and burned out on life at a young age, but her cynicism is offset by the unfettered optimism of her sidekick/butler, a sentient cat-shaped alarm clock that resembles the Kit Cat Klock Gentleman.
Kate accompanied her father on grand adventures when she was a child, but Shutter takes it even further than Indiana Jones-style romps to jaunts to outer space and fights with sea monsters. When secrets about Kate’s father surface, it’s not a surprise, but the secrets themselves are unique and delightful.
The comic finds small ways to delight through unusual visuals while still instilling moments of real emotion. When Kate’s best friend, Alain, is injured in an attack meant for Kate, we recognize Kate’s desperate worry in the lonely hospital waiting room—until a nurse with a jack-o-lantern for a head arrives with good news.
When Kate has to return to her father’s estate, a macabre welcome from the butler—a skeleton in a suit—turns heartfelt when it becomes clear that the butler has taken care of Kate since she was a child.
Shutter is a wonderful marriage of the bizarre, and at times even grotesque, with poignant storytelling. Be warned, though: this comic is very violent, and not for children.
Diversity in Shutter
Leila Del Duca’s art is wonderful, with a slightly sketchy style, sharp angles, and tons of detail. The story includes plenty of people of diverse ethnicities, genders, abilities, and ages. Kate herself is a woman of color, and her best friend, Alain, is a trans woman.
I do wish there was more body diversity. All of the main human characters are thin, long-limbed, and attractive in that traditional large-eyed comics way.
Overall, Shutter is a sophisticated, nuanced, and at times kind of gross exploration of identity, family legacy, and the role of the individual in a larger cosmic pattern. If you enjoy creative storytelling, or are just looking for an example of how to plunge your readers into a story without ever letting go of their attention, Shutter is for you.
Tell us in the comments: Have you read Shutter?
Marina is a West Coast native living in Washington, DC. She loves writing anything, from sci-fi to creative non-fiction to romance, often drawing inspiration from the frequent travel required by her day job. Her work has appeared in such literary magazines as DistrictLit and Corner Bar Magazine. When she’s not writing, you can find her hosting bar trivia, baking something involving peaches, or bothering her extremely patient dog, Daisy. You can read more of her work at marinabarakatt.com and find pictures of Daisy at @marinabarakatt.