Extremity by Daniel Warren Johnson is an intense read that those with a strong enough will should undertake. Published by Image comics, Johnson’s tale is an unflinching look at the dehumanizing effects of war.
The title of the book, Extremity has a dual meaning: The story’s central character Thea, was once the most talented artist in her clan until her drawing hand was brutally hacked off by a vengeful queen.
Losing the literal extremity that defined her, was part of the incident that generated the central conflict of the narrative, and drove Thea and her father to the violent extremity of their response.
The world Johnson has constructed is cruel, and the loss of beauty—be it in the form of the art Thea once created, or the pure love found in a happy family and village—is a key theme of the narrative.
The book is a feverish blend of Miyazaki‘s Nausicaä and the master’s Castle in the Sky, as seen through the unflinching lens of George Miller‘s Mad Max. Johnson gets right to the point in his no-frills approach to storytelling. His drawing is reminiscent of a young Philippe Druillet or Mœbius, while his depiction of action and movement shows the influence of Katsuhiro Otomo. The artful simplicity of his facial expressions and character acting reminds one of Jordi Bernet. Colorist Mike Spicer provides a muted color palette, short on shading or multiple tones, that perfectly suits the world Johnson has created.
Johnson’s art features jittery, skittering lines that scratch out an image as much as define it. He rarely presents specific light sources or their reciprocal shadows, infusing his panels with an all-encompassing light that visually contradicts the thematic darkness of the story. The effect is reminiscent of the most recent Mad Max film, Fury Road, where most of the scenes where shot in stark daylight—creating a sense that there was nowhere to hide in this brutal world.
And make no mistake, the world Johnson has built is a brutal one. Extremity is not for all ages or tastes. There is no humor, nor are there lighthearted moments in the story. Loss, be it of personal identity or moral code, is key to the central driving theme of the book, and at times the story is relentless in its depiction. Johnson is the creator of a successful (and humorous) web-comic (Space Mullet), but clearly this is another endeavor altogether.
Johnson is a young creator and still defining himself as a writer. At times, there’s a lack of polish in his execution and he telegraphs some of his story beats. However, the rawness of his storytelling more often serves the tone of the book perfectly.
Just as the protagonist Thea is finding her way (as a former artist, disrupted in the development of her talent, desperately trying to still create), so too is Johnson finding his.
Writer and character mirror one another, lending the former’s work an authenticity often lacking in bleak, apocalyptic stories of this genre.
Any accomplished salesman or politician (they’re often the same thing, aren’t they) will tell you that the fear of losing something outweighs the hope of gaining something else.
Though the story of Extremity revolves around loss, the underlying theme is of finding hope even when everything seems hopeless—though hope, as well as personal identity, are defined differently by different people. In the end, each character is simply just trying to find his or her way.
Aren’t we all? If you’re up to the challenge, find your way over to Extremity and let Johnson take you on this particular journey to define those universal concepts.