cover image A Shining Beacon

A Shining Beacon

James Albon. Top Shelf, $19.99 trade paper (224) ISBN 978-1-60309-445-0

The nameless country that Albon paints, with cool watercolors and short brush strokes that bring to mind Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, hits all the dystopian marks: totalitarian government, rampant censorship, revolutionaries brooding in the wings, shadowy prime minister plotting evil from his wheelchair. But in a saturated market for cruel worlds, the tale of Fran Saxon, a modestly talented artist commissioned to paint a mural for the minister’s new showboat of a recreation center, does not stand out. Fran’s apolitical history may make her an everywoman ripe for an awakening, but it also contributes to her overall blandness as a character. She makes new friends in the capital: a mysterious woman named Sofia and Redford, a frustrated musician from an immigrant family, who is her government-assigned warden and potential illicit-affair interest. Though trite in their own ways, they are both more intriguing than Fran. The narrative takes a more developed turn about three-quarters of the way through when it begins to interrogate revolutionary tactics and ideology, and ruminate on just how little control artists have over how their work is interpreted. But much like Fran’s own hard-won wisdom and well-received mural, this arc feels like too little, too late. Albon’s more nuanced ideas and his lovely, fluid illustrations can’t quite save this story from its off-balance plotting. (May)