It’s a big old world when there’s no one else to share it with. From I am Legend to Wall-E and The Last Man on Earth, the lone figure of the last survivor in a world devoid of other people is a fascinating one, and The Incredible Plight of Tony Featherneck by Owen Sherwood offers a quirky spin on the premise.
Publisher: Owen Sherwood
Writer: Owen Sherwood
Artist: Owen Sherwood
Price: £3 from Owen’s Etsy Store
Owen Sherwood is an editorial illustrator and storyboard artist whose work has appeared in The Guardian and The FT Magazine, but The Incredible Plight of Tony Featherneck is his first foray into sequential storytelling. The self-published mini-comic reproduces twenty-four, gorgeous, black-and-tan pages from the artist’s Moleskine which act as the prologue to a longer graphic novel that he is currently working on.
The cover reveals our titular hero, naked and swathed in shadow peering out through the leaves of a dark woodland. What makes the muscular figure more unsettling than even his nakedness, or dead-eyed stare, is the fact that he has what appears to be the neck and head of a bird. We do not actually meet our hero until two thirds of the way through the comic. Instead, in a sequence of stacked panels that act as a kind of reversal of the 1977 short, Power of Ten, Sherwood moves in a progressively tighter close up that transforms the black ink of the title text, first into the dark expanse of outer space and then through a swirling galaxy to the Earth itself and closer still to an island, until finally coming to rest on a pair of human feet glimpsed through the foliage of a wooded glade.
As might be expected from a comic that is for a good number of pages one extended intergalactic zoom, this “Prologue” issue is pretty short on story. Yet, what it lacks in narrative action or exposition, it more than makes up for in atmosphere. Sherwood’s inky brush strokes create an eerily desolate landscape of beautifully rendered trees and streams and expansive beaches littered with the washed up remnants of modern consumerism, yet all perplexingly devoid of human beings. Sherwood is a master with a brush-pen, and his expressive, open linework is brimming with an energy and a sketchy vitality that is equally suited to suggesting solar flares and planets in motion as it is capturing the weighty, wrecked solidity of a beached container ship.
Where the art really comes alive is in the figure of poor, blighted Tony Featherneck himself. Our hero wakes from an unconsciousness that finds him lying face down in the dirt and without a stitch on, seemingly unable to move. Sherwood’s expressionistic brushwork gives his figures a really earthy quality reminiscent of a slightly less-cartoony Scott Morse. As Tony struggles to regain control of his unresponsive body in a sequence of panels that recall Ditko’s Spider-man trapped in the sewer, Sherwood is able to depict the strain, both mental and physical, of Tony’s attempts to stand up, all without using any facial expressions at all.
The Incredible Plight of Tony Featherneck is as much an art comic take on the “last man alive” genre tale as it is a slice of magic realist modern fantasy, and whether you are drawn in by the evocative artwork or the novel reworking of post-apocalyptic tropes, this mini-comic most definitely signals its’ creator as a talent to watch out for.