With a comic like Pathfinder, which is steeped in the rich tradition of tabletop role playing games, it’s important for the creative team to capture just the right mood with each scene to allow readers to become ingratiated with the characters’ journey while still remaining true to the themes set forth from the source material. By creating an enticing mood, readers will be easily drawn into a world deemed esoteric at best and inaccessible at worst. Writer Jim Zub and artist Andrew Huertas do just that in issue three with the six adventurers plotting their next course of action by fire-light.
To understand the basic plot of Pathfinder’s story, it’s important to remember that the fantasy genre is much like the superhero or sci-fi genre in that suspension of disbelief is predicated on the creative team’s ability to craft a cogent, artful reality for their characters to inhabit. In this particular story, six adventurers head into the wilderness to track a pack of rabid goblins who have plagued the countryside. Deep in the dark heart of the forest they must decide whether to press forward after capturing the suspected ringleader of the goblins or return to the relative safety of town. Merisel (a white-haired elven warrior) is left to watch over their hostage while the others discuss the matter. The robed captive begins to pry into Merisel’s life history and inquires why an elf would be traveling with such a motley crew. Perhaps sensing some weakness in Merisel’s resolve, he plants a seed of distrust in her ear, calling into question the loyalty of her traveling companions. Along with a hearty battle with some flesh-eating ghouls, the team also begins to learn more about each other and the quest they’ve undertaken.
So yeah – this is pretty classic D&D style questing, but what makes it tolerable to those with no taste for middle-earth stylings is the completely and utterly darkly intense vibe the creative team lays down. The artistic choices that Huertas makes, both in character action and panel placement is varied and impactful. The first scene is set around a small campsite with a fire blazing in the middle and he’s able to capture an intimate feel to the outdoor backdrop. He does this by using the light from the fire to demarcate the boundaries of visible space. Beyond that – terrifying, pitch blackness in which any manner of horrible evil roams, so it’s definitely best to stay in the light. His panel composition in this scene stays in the mid, to tight to super tight on some characters faces. There are a few extreme cases in which portions of people’s faces are even obscured to imply tight quarters within the campsite and also add an extra bit of drama to key pieces of dialogue. He also throws a few sparks and embers in the air to solidify the wilderness campfire atmosphere, further drive home the immediate intimacy and add a damn eerie vibe to the whole affair. This scene is contrasted perfectly later on when the group is trodding in the rain with Huertas showing more wide shots and a deep, visible backgrounds to establish the open space in which they’re traveling. Jim Zub adds to the darkly intense tone by creating a sense of doubt and possible betrayal in Merisel’s interaction with their prisoner. The “Will she? Won’t she?” sentiment is present, but not in an overt way. It lingers in the back ground for a few pages, as if it’s hiding just beyond the fire, waiting for the flickering light to die out. The level of paranoia Zub establishes so quickly is a testament to brevity as a writer and works very well with the art in the book.
If you’re not a fantasy fan, Pathfinder is one of those books that shouldn’t have an affect on you at all, but it does! This is because of Jim Zub and Andrew Huerta’s ingenious use of mood and tone to create an intense and universally accessible sense of creeping fear and paranoia.