Let’s talk long form storytelling

Writers: Rory McConille & Declan Shalvey
Artist: Jorge Coelho
Colourist: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

There comes a point when you are reading a long running ongoing where the world has taken on a life of its own. When you need to really read everything before but your reward is that it opens up in front of you and you get that ‘Ooooo’ moment. Time travel stories following multiple threads often have this built in but they don’t always pay off. With Time Before Time it pays off in spades. This issue is a really perfect illustration of that. It harks all the way back to threads that have been part of the world since the first issue. Of course there’s other stuff going on as well, and some excellent character stuff at that, overall it’s a very satisfying read.

We have a few plots going on. The least of these is Sebastian and Tatsuo and though there’s some development there it’s pretty light and it seems like we’re just ticking along. Nadia is the second plot. She’s being interrogated by her mother post the reveal of Kevin. We’ve seen the last few issues how Nadia has struggled with her family, how she can’t make the connection with them, despite being related and spending her formative years with them. This all comes to a head as we see Nadia for the first time really make a choice about what she considers family to be. Being reunited with her family was the driving force throughout the early arcs and now we’re seeing that deconstructed. Again it really pays off to have followed the story so far, to see that development.

Really though the real meat of this issue lies with Kevin and his encounter with Stan. If you recall we first met him as a spoilt kid in the 80’s having been relocated. Then we met him again as an older adult and he meets up with Tatsuo and here, here he is very different, completely snapped with some crazy ideas and poor Kevin is in trouble. Yet, despite the fact he has clearly gone a bit mad we also know there’s a history there. As we know being relocated through time does not always mean a happy ending. There’s more insight into what happened to Stan this issue too as we get a flashback into the 1990s and seeing how things started going wrong. All of this of course links right back to how we were introduced to this world.

It’s not common for a book to make me want to go back and re-read all previous twenty one issues but honestly this does. That’s what makes Time Before Time a book that you know will have some longevity. It’s a book which rewards the reader over and over again.

The narrative threads run through back to the first issue. We’ve had a few artist changes since then but there’s still been continuity in style. Yes, Nadia and Kevin look a bit different this issue to how they did in their first appearances but you still know its them. Each art style has been distinct but it’s not gone so different as to be jarring. That’s also been very much a strength with Time Before Time all the way through and really helps support that long form storytelling. The scenes of Nadia and her mother and her sister this issue art wise match up with the art we saw way back in earlier issue flashbacks to when Nadia had to leave her mother and sister, a relative lifetime ago.

One of the reasons for this continuity is the colouring. Chris O’Halloran has been colouring this book since the first issue. That colour palette has been adapted and changed according to setting but is always consistent. Like Kevin and the grey blues of himself and his clothing in whatever period he is in. This helps with continuty. The designs may change a bit but the characters colouring remains the same. Often we underestimate colouring with art but honestly this colouring has helped with the nature of the long form story and that should be pointed out.

Something else that has remained consistent is the lettering. Again we don’t often point it out but lettering is how we hear character’s voices, read their thoughts. The lettering has been the same since the first issue (Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou) which again gives a huge boost to continuty. It’s not something easily noticed but it just shows the care attention, time and effort that has gone into investing in this world, these characters and ideas. The lettering consistency means when Nadia speaks this issue we’re in no doubt it’s the same Nadia as twenty one issues ago because it’s the same Nadia we’re hearing via the lettering.

All this is to say that yes this was a good issue. The reason it’s such a good issue is that is shows some of the awesome ways reader investment can pay off. I am invested. There’s tension, I am worried about these characters (Kevin! That ending!) yet at the same time the reason it means so much to me is because of what’s gone before, that this treats me as a thoughtful reader and rewards my investment. That’s the power of long form storytelling in comics. Time Before Time epitomises everything great about it and does it so well.

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