With the opening panel of Green Wake #1 (from Shadowline) writer Kurtis Wiebe, artist Riley Rossmo and letterer Kelly Tindall present us with something dark and tragic, something that weaves throughout the narrative, our protagonist’s head and Green Wake itself.
Green Wake is a story where imagery is incredibly important. The narrative and environment are rife with symbolism and dripping with atmosphere, but it goes deeper than that, to the very core of the book in fact.
Green Wake, for those not in the know, is a strange, seemingly forgotten town. People arrive there in boats that wash ashore on the banks of the town’s river, with no memory of how they got there. Grief and the loss of a loved one seem to be the only connective tissue between those that find themselves in Green Wake. The story begins with Morley Mack, our protagonist, and his sidekick Krieger investigating a batch of murders that occur in the town after the arrival of a new denizen, Carl.
This opening issue of the series naturally begins with a scene of tragedy. The dark foreboding atmosphere of the book is established from the get go with Rossmo’s dark shades of brown permeating a sky pregnant with dark clouds and the rain whipping down from the heavens. The lighter shades in the panel are almost washed out, an absence of colour rather than a traditional white.
These lighter shades are reserved for the two figures in the panel, Morley and Anna (his ill-fated lover). By using these lighter tones our eyes are immediately drawn to them. Morley, in the lower left of the panel, is on the floor, shaken and ruffled. He looks towards his car, now wrapped around a tree. Sprawling from the open passenger door is his only source of light and happiness in the world, Anna. She's almost ethereal in her shading. There’s also a barely visible presence of red around Anna’s mouth, a subtle suggestion of the horror and realisation that arrives on the last panel of this opening page. It might also be argued that this serves as a kind of foreshadowing of some of the horror and victims that await Morley in Green Wake during this first issue.
We also get two sets of captions accompanying this opening panel, captions depicting Morley’s thoughts. These captions talk about the choices a man makes in his life, and the questioning of those choices. The second caption goes further, positing the notion that by weighing every ‘fork in the road’ a man might come to believe that he can change his fate. These captions, juxtaposed against such a scene of tragedy, hint at the foolishness of that line of thought.
Whether purposeful or not, the page is split into an invisible axis down the centre of the page. Morley and one caption on the left, Anna, the car and the other caption on the right. It’s this moment that separates Morley from reality, and even Anna herself. These are the final moments they’ll share, the final moments of anything approaching normalcy. Whatever comes after is only a memory and a shoddy reconstruction. Two sides of the page, two characters separated forever by circumstance, fate, life and death.
We quickly come to learn the incredible sense of guilt Morley feels over Anna’s death. He thinks that, in her final moments, she blamed him for what happened. It’s this grief and guilt that drives him, but it’s also what keeps him in Green Wake.
This is the tie that binds all of the citizens in Green Wake. Guilt. Every single one of them is unable to let go of the past, what they did to someone they loved or even what they perceived they did (both notions are equally as powerful here). What we’re seeing with this first panel is the image that Morley holds within himself — Anna’s lifeless body thrown from the door like a rag doll, the life fading from her body.
Wiebe chooses to give us Morley’s darkest moment straight up, effectively coming out swinging. It’s a smart move because we, the readers, need to know just what would affect a man like Morley so much. By not only giving us this information, but showing us, so early we’re straight away drawn to empathise with Morley. We don’t just know about Morley losing Anna, we’ve seen it with our own eyes. This image is the key to the ultimate mystery, and escape from, Green Wake. It’s what Morley is unable to let go of until his understanding has evolved.
But, there’s also a flip side to this image— one that only becomes clear at the conclusion of the book. I’ll try and keep any points here as vague as I can. Green Wake is something best savoured unspoiled. In its final moments Morley realises that the real power in Green Wake resides in the inhabitants themselves (something beautifully suggested in the early issues with Morley’s ever replenishing pack of cigarettes). We control our own perception of the world around us, our history and the things we’ve done. We self-mythologize our own fear, loss and regret. Green Wake is representative of the prisons we create in the aftermath of our darkest days.
This opening image is the eye that the Morley’s entire journey is threaded through. To get there though, the weight of this panel has to be shrugged off. This is an opening contract that truly has power. It’s an effective image that ensures we, like Morley, carry it right the way through to Green Wake’s beautiful conclusion.