How Can a Comic Drawn Only in Pencil Be This Beautiful?

Reading between the lines.
Aug. 6 2014 12:11 PM

Scratch Marks

The beauty of a comic book drawn only in pencil.

Panels from It Never Happened Again.

Courtesy of Uncivilized Books

As a reader, I tend to like my comics lush and ornate. While the writing is important, it’s often the art that draws me in first, so even before I knew comics like Sex Criminals, The Undertaking of Lily Chen, and March were great stories, I was attracted by their sweeping, vibrant, ambitious cartooning.


At first glance you might think Sam Alden’s slim book of cartoon stories, It Never Happened Again, isn’t like those other books. Alden’s panels are color-free, rough and messy, made up only of familiar pencil scratches. But in fact his apparent artlessness is deceptive: “Hawaii” and “Anime,” the two stories in It Never Happened Again, are both mini–master classes in elegant, evocative cartooning. Alden’s natural sense of framing and pace, his willingness to use silent panels to tell stories, and his beautiful (yes, beautiful) pencil images combined to open my eyes to a new idea of what a great comic can be.

It helps that he’s also an excellent writer—both stories sketch out lonely, lost characters efficiently, and put them each through very different quests for meaning. In “Hawaii,” a boy on vacation at the beach chases after a friend; in “Anime,” a young adult pins all her hopes for the future on an upcoming trip to Japan. I love them both, and I’m very pleased to have Sam Alden illustrating this month’s issue of the Slate Book Review.



It Never Happened Again by Sam Alden. Uncivilized Books.

It Never Happened Again: Two Stories

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.



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