“Blues for the Red Sun” is the first installment of artist and animator Sam Megaw’s self-published graphic novel series tracking a lazy student who suddenly finds herself on the front line of a long standing war between an evil elitist society secretly controlling her university and a resistance movement fighting to protect students from being ‘removed’ (expelled, or otherwise) from campus. Keeping a good balance of the everyday and the otherworldly this first book sets the scene for a Scott Pilgrim-style adventure in an alternative, slightly cooler version of Belfast were there’s humour, sci-fi twists and pop culture references all nicely wired together.
Heroine Lee McKenna, after five years’ hard grind at technical college is offered a place at her dream university (Queens University Belfast). Leaving a darker past behind and embracing the full student package of late night gaming sessions, hangovers and general slacking off Lee quickly finds herself surrounded by a group of likeminded companions. As routine kicks in Lee begins to get used to the mundanity of daily lectures and afternoon beers when she makes the cardinal error of asking to drop out of a particularly tedious class. This foolish act of insurgency hurls Lee to the top of the list of a sinister organisation (known only as ‘The Group’) that unbeknownst to most control the goings on in all Universities across the country; removing any students deemed ‘unworthy’ using always cruel and unscrupulous means. The setting quickly slips into the surreal as suddenly Lee finds that not only is her place in university threatened but also her life as her psychotic childhood bully is enlisted, who is on her own mission to see her dead. But there is far more to Lee that meets the eye and she stumbles upon help in some unexpected places…
The campus setting is written authentically and brought to life by Megaw’s likable self-depreciating humour which drives the story; even with the impending danger Lee and her friends get distracted and go on their own tangents, discussing the wonder of toilets or lampooning the one ‘Mac guy’ in their midst. Lee slips into her own private dimension in her investigations, getting inside knowledge from friendly statues that adorn the University and organising her decision making through the Mass Effect menu. There’s lots of clever gaming and sci-fi references and whilst Megaw has drawn inspiration from many places he clearly has his own flair for creating his own unique world and approach.
The line art throughout the book is also distinct in quality and style; the drawing is playful but there’s an impressive attention to detail in the illustrations of Belfast, landmarks are instantly recognizable whilst filtered through Megaw’s own unusual vision. Regardless, with or without being familiar with the background locations, the art still draws you in whilst also adding to the comedic tone.
“Blues for the Red Sun” sets the scene to what is set to be an exciting series. This first part is very much an introduction of Lee and her friends finding their way round their new course. Most sci-fi or fantasy lovers and general escapists will immediately find something in common with Lee and certainly relate and enjoy Megaw’s humour and style. After the main story there are a few pages previewing the next instalment, where the stakes are higher and set firmly in the weirder alternate universe glimpsed at in this book. This is a self-published title that surely deserves more attention and one that I would recommend to any graphic novel or sci-fi/comedy lover looking for something new to discover. A web comic version is available online but what’s nice about the printed book is that there are some interesting notes from the author discussing his inspirations, with some draft panels and scripts. Well worth checking out. For more info or to get a copy visit Megaw’s page here.