CLOVER (Vol. 1-4)
Reviewed by Joy Richardson
The ladies of the Clamp Corporation have long established themselves as Shojo Manga-ka genii with Cardcaptor Sakura and Magic Knight Rayearth selling hugely the world over. Therefore you can’t help but have certain expectations from them, the queen-team of magical schoolgirls, but CLOVER has managed to exceed anything I had anticipated, becoming one of the most odd and intriguing comics I’ve ever read.
CLOVER is set in a cyber-punk reality where mammal and machine are so intertwined the characters themselves can’t even tell the difference. Although several of the cast save and are saved there are no heroes. Although some of them love and lose loves there is no romance. The technology is not emphasised, their powers are barely even mentioned. So why’s it so great?
Well, before the books are opened they are stunning; the opaque dustcovers printed in black and silver are just translucent enough to show the fully painted outer covers that continue inside to become painted double page frontispiece and end art. Clamp have produced several art books containing über-cute paintings of their most popular superheroines but these paintings are more beautiful; more macabre and much more ‘grown-up'.
The plot revolves around a song, called Clover, and the only wish of a young girl named Sue. She has been incarcerated from a young age by the ‘wizards’; a governing group of men and women with psychic abilities who have captured all those whose supernatural powers may threaten them. These children are then branded and graded as being 1-4 leaf Clovers, Sue is the only 4 leaf and as a consequence has lived in solitude since incarceration with very little contact with the outside world. The first book starts as Sue is about to leave her cage...
Beyond that it gets very surreal, something not lessened by the non-linear structure of the tale and the visually unusual style of storytelling; negative space is used to positive effect with both image and word to create a monochrome masterpiece. The books are divided into 4-6 page mini chapters, each one set somewhere different to that which precedes it. The script is delivered almost randomly on the page, as much a part of the composition as the artwork, sometimes containing dialogue but often just words from the song Clover or blank verse. This adds to the feeling that it is based somewhere just beyond our realm of comprehension, the concepts being just so far removed from how we exist that we can neither relate to or react against the characters.
It certainly is no ‘girls comic,’ the authors managing to cross that chasm so often unsuccessfully bridged; attracting both the male and female audience with growing expertise. The art though is just amazing. A softened version of the characteristic Clamp style, the figures are more elegantly proportioned and realistic, as seen in adult Japanese comics but also adopting a more Americanised style. Exclusively black and white the images are defined by clear simple lines, the small use of mid-tone reserved for scenery which is only included where absolutely necessary, Clamp preferring to use negative space. The focus is on the characters and their juxtaposition, their clothes and ‘Mek’ than how they exist in their environment. Their sharply defined ‘accessories’ - wings and weapons being the norm - only emphasize the gentle handling of the figures.
This series is as much about a ‘look’ as it is storytelling. The design applied to the bindings is witness to this; the writing is as abstractly employed as the art, a technique common amongst Shojo Manga-ka but used in this context to further enhance the futuristic feel. The words are used almost like logos, the story continuing almost exclusively in the images; with the effect that storyline is entirely reliant on the artwork. In Japan the conception, art and writing tends to be undertaken by a single person (or in the case of Clamp, a group working as a single entity) so this art-led narration predominates sometimes to the detriment of the tale. However, the storytelling of Clover is not lacking in any respect and although the song lyrics are a little ‘angsty’ this may be more a result of translation from an Eastern poetic style.
All in all it’s punky sci-fi with pretty girls, wings, cool fights, conspiracy theories and some slightly dodgy poetry but still an essential addition to any comic collection.
Joy Richardson is a new contributor to PopImage.com
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