By Joe Keatinge, Leila Del Duca & Owen Gieni
Shutter began its 2016 with an issue spotlighting the relationship between lead protagonist Kate and Huckleberry. #18 was an emotionally powerful portrait of the crests, crashes and aftermath of a love affair which set the tone for a stellar year from Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca’s creator owned series. Hence, it is only appropriate for its penultimate chapter of the year, Shutter focuses once again on Huckleberry. And once again, her story proves to be a poignant lesson in not only the pain of the past but how growth may emerge from it.
The majority of #18 takes place during Huckleberry’s childhood in Ashland, Montana. Huckleberry’s youth was spent amidst rural farmland which matches the cowgirl aesthetic favored by the adult woman. Artist Leila Del Duca beautifully evokes the seeming limitless terrain populated by plain farmhouses and undulating crops of wheat. Here is landscape worthy of the description “majestic fields of grain.” In addition, there is a sense of detachment from the outside world, a realm of peaceful seclusion. There is a stunning two page spread of her family’s homestead which is breathtaking in its expansive scope, as well as stillness. The closest hint of activity comes from a pair of birds, nearly specks in size, coasting along the horizon. Yet, instead of dwarfing, the expansiveness of nature feels comforting. Home and hearth possess a built in reassurance. Vital to the conjuring of this ambiance is the lush coloring of Owen Gieni. The pages are suffused with soothing hues of yellow and orange which reinforce the sense of a fondly remembered past, now far out of reach. Indeed, the entirety of Huckleberry’s youth appears to be taking place at dusk. Or perhaps that is simply how it seems in retrospect?
Joe Keatinge’s script is smart enough to avoid viewing such an isolated lifestyle through rose-tinted glasses. One of the earliest scenes involves Huckleberry’s mother teaching her how to shoot a gun. This lesson has a very practical bent because the family lives off the land. As such hunting is a skill Huckleberry must learn for her own survival. This reality does not make Huckleberry’s first kill any easier, though. After some initial difficulty with tin can target practice, her first shot at a live target is dead-on, killing a rabbit with a clean shot to the head. However, “clean” is a relative term. The gaze of the dead rabbit haunts the young girl, flashing before her eyes as she sits at dinner cutting the animal’s meat on her plate.
In the present, the adult Huckleberry has returned to Ashland to recuperate from the events of #22. While she physically survived the carnage, it was not without significant wounds both physical and mental. Kate and Alain visit Huckleberry and Alain presents Huckleberry with a gift that could greatly assist in her recovery. Huckleberry turns it down. Huckleberry’s gesture is interesting as it suggests a preference for letting scars heals naturally. Alain’s gift would have been a fantastic aid, but it also would have papered over what had been lost. Huckleberry is not interested in such an approach. She prefers to face her situation directly, relearning the sharpshooting skills which contributed to crafting her adult persona. The rippling effects of past actions have long played a prominent role in Shutter. Huckleberry’s choice is a reminder that the only way anyone can truly recover from injuries is to address them directly. This idea is underscored by Geini’s coloring for the present day sequence which replaces the autumnal poetics of childhood with clear grey skies of adulthood. Light has replaced dusk.
Yet, it was as a child that Huckleberry took her first steps towards acquiring such wisdom. Her father was a painter and one day he invites her to inspect his latest work in progress. At first glance it is simply an illustration of a rabbit. The artist feels something is lacking. It needs to “be” a rabbit, not look “like” one. He offers Huckleberry a chance to correct this failing; the catch is she only has a single stroke with which to do so. Del Duca beautifully depicts the result in which Huckleberry brings life to the painting, imbuing the creature with a quiet dignity. The animal no longer feels like a representation of a generic rabbit, but one with a specific personality. With her earlier actions Huckleberry takes a life, while with another she restores it. That she does so without denying the truth of her behavior renders her accomplishment even more impressive.
In his brilliant documentary F for Fake, Orson Welles put forth the idea that all storytellers are fibbers. They spin fictional yarns which, if successful, result in their audience becoming emotional involved with imaginary characters. Why should anyone feel remorse for a Charles Foster Kane or a Huckleberry? None of their pain is “real.” The answer, Welles suggests, comes from a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso: “art is the lie that tells the truth.” The spinner of yarns is both the most untrustworthy trickster and the most honest truth-teller. And so, in Shutter, where Keatinge and Del Duca craft another elegant tale set in a fantastical universe which is animated by the emotions of everyday human experience. For that reason, Shutter remains one of the very best books currently published. It also makes its latest installment This Week’s Finest.