Short stories are something of a lost art in the world of comics. They once dominated the field, with old 80-page giants and anthology titles offering readers collections of compact storytelling entertainment each month. Today, short stories are pretty rare and good ones rarer still.
In Proud by James Mulholland and Caitlin Soliman, the potency and power of the short comic story is on display in top form. Mulholland scripts a clear and concise tale with a dreamy vibe, and Soliman’s artwork wastes no time in driving the story home. The creators are really in sync here, which is vitally important considering the story’s length. With only four pages to get the job done, Mulholland and Soliman make each panel and caption count. There’s not enough space in such a short story for the smoothest of transitions, but bumps and all this is a very good read.
The story centers on child protagonist John, clad in Underoos style superhero garb. The child is intent on saving his parents, seemingly kidnapped by an evil mad scientist. We’re shown a wonderful vision of childhood à la Calvin and Hobbes and a funky suburban setting somewhat reminiscent of the video game Earthbound. However, the breezy style belies a much deeper undercurrent and a strong message that makes this story unique. Four pages doesn’t offer a lot of room for finesse, but the core of the story is ambitiously told and emotionally connects.
Soliman’s art is a beautiful blend of expressive cartoon figures and lush colors. There’s not a lot of time for extended world building, but what Soliman lays down gels instantly and puts the reader there. The digital colors are applied with purpose, amplifying the emotions and tone of the story. The art in web comics is often a bit shy of being ready for prime time, but Soliman’s pages match the standards of professional material from a large publisher.
Like the best short comics of yore, Mulholland delivers the story’s payoff in the closing panels and in Proud that payoff hits with a wallop. I won’t spoil the end, but I will say that it brings the feels in a way that’s deft and heartfelt. It takes a careful balance to keep meaningful from becoming sappy or poignant from turning overly preachy. Here the emotion is deployed perfectly. Not too much is said, not too little is left unsaid. The end result produces a feeling that resonates long after the story is closed.
Proud is a touching comic that manages to pack more emotion into four pages than most comics do in 20. An extra page or two may have rounded out some of the transitions and made for an even more powerful experience, but what the creators manage to do in just a few short pages is remarkable.
Read James Mulholland and Caitlin Soliman’s Proud yourself for free.