Be quick about it? Buy Butterfly Gate – you won’t regret it because it is remarkably good.
Of course that is not the way we do reviews on downthetubes. We normally try to tell you something about the book, about its creators, and why we think it is worth buying and sometimes even who should buy it or who it should be bought for. We also tend to give a brief and hopefully spoiler-free synopsis of the plot, sometimes taken from the book publicity or sometimes written by ourselves.
The problem with Butterfly Gate for reviewers is that it is 99% silent. With no speech bubbles, thought balloons and virtually no text boxes, there are no names for the characters or their locations. Indeed the only reason I know the name of the device that they use to travel between their locations is because it is the title of the book. So this review may take a little patience on your part.
A sister and her younger brother wearing Victorian-style clothing are chasing butterflies in a large immaculately kept garden supervised by a woman. With the woman asleep in the sun, they follow an unusually beautiful butterfly into the neighbouring wood where they discover the crumbling ruins of an alien statue. That statue includes a doorway that takes them to a different world where, six months later, they have been enslaved into diving for treasure by a cruel alien overlord.
While the initial section of the book appears somewhat idyllic there is a startlingly dark twist in how the children are able to activate the Stargate-like doorway and it raises the question of just how idyllic their lives actually are. Indeed Butterfly Gate raises many more questions than it answers. Is the woman their nanny? Is this actually Victorian Britain? What is the Butterfly Gate doorway? Why have they never found it before if it is that close to their home? Why does it take them to another world? Who is the alien overlord? What is the underwater structure that they are scavenging from? Who are the creators of the gate? In this initial part of the series it is left to the imagination of the reader to fill in the answers to these questions.
As the story gets further from home, both for the two children and for the readers, what we as readers make of these ongoing questions will inevitably diverge. Yet that is perhaps one of the strengths of the book. Writer Benjamin Read and artist Chris Wildgoose created the exquisite Porcelain and this follow-up is somewhat different in tone, from the blood on the front cover to the information in the introduction that the ongoing tale will cover ten years of these children’s lives in six monthly jumps. Benjamin captures the reader’s imaginations by beginning with the reasonably mundane and giving it a dramatically unexpected twist whilst forcing the readers to fill in many of the blanks themselves. Chris’ artwork is as beautiful here as it was in the earlier Porcelain while his clear page layouts help maintain the reader’s understanding of the ongoing narrative as well as showing his imagination for alien cultures.
Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose’s Porcelain has had many well deserved plaudits yet Butterfly Gate has had much less exposure perhaps due to the difficulty in writing about it due to the challenge that its silent nature poses for both readers and reviewers. So having written all that let me simply return to the first statement I made in this review: Buy Butterfly Gate – you won’t regret it because it is remarkably good.
• There are more details of Butterfly Gate and a 12 page preview on the Improper Books website
• John Freeman’s interview with Benjamin Read about his work is here
• The downthetubes review of Improper Books’ Porcelain is here
• Butterfly Gate (and other Improper Books) are distributed by Diamond can be ordered through your local comic shop in the UK. The following comic shops stock their titles: Chaos City Comics (St. Albans); Destination Venus (Harrogate); Gnash Comics (Ashburton); Gosh! (London); OK Comics (Leeds); Orbital Comics (London); Page 45 (Nottingham); Paradox Comics (Poole); and Travelling Man (Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and York)
If you’re a UK based retailer interested in stocking Improper Books Limited Independent Editions, contact retail [at] improperbooks [dot] com for more information.